With nearly 30,000 residents, Aberdeen, South Dakota is the third most populous city in the state of South Dakota. Aberdeen is distinctive in that it’s located 100 miles from any other community of significant size, making it a regional hub for health care, business, education and recreation.
“We just want to make Aberdeen a better place to live for our citizens, and also attractive to visitors,” says Lisa Anderson, the director of marketing for the chamber of commerce. “We look at every visitor as a potential resident. We hope they see what we’re doing and love it as much as we do. We’re just always looking for ways to improve.”
Aberdeen won its first Healthy Hometown award in 2021. Again, in 2022, the hard work of several community leaders and volunteers contributed to them winning their second Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark Opens New Window Community Award. Here are just a few projects Aberdeen completed over the last year that helped them earn this recognition.
School district launches new lunch program
In 2021, Aberdeen public schools transitioned all 4,400 students from a self-operated school lunch program to a food service management company. “This change was really about offering better quality meals and a variety of food,” says Anderson. “But it also alleviated the burden of operating the school lunch program from the school district.”
With the change, Aberdeen students now have additional hot and cold entrée options and a wide variety of new menu offerings, plus an unlimited fruit and vegetable bar for all grade levels. The new menu also features plenty of locally grown produce.
The program has important, new tools for those who have food allergies. They can use an interactive web-based menu to find nutritional information, and filter the menu to avoid food sensitivities and allergic reactions.
The new program has been a success. During the school year, the school district saw a 15 percent increase in lunch participation, and a seven percent increase in breakfast participation.
“It is especially helpful for elementary students, who needed more food choice,” says Anderson. Future plans include the addition of a greenhouse on the campus of the high school, which will provide locally grown fruits and vegetables for the food service program.
Sidewalk additions increases walkability
Installing and repairing sidewalks was a major initiative for Aberdeen in late 2021. The city added 4,830 feet of new sidewalk to improve walkability and increase handicap accessibility to one of the city’s main shopping and retail areas. The new sidewalks also connect to the bike trail.
Aberdeen is home to a college and a university, and many students don’t have vehicles. In order to get to the mall or retail stores on the east side of town, they walk. Before the sidewalk was installed, there was a “goat trail” created from area foot traffic. When the snow hit, it was blocked all winter, creating a safety hazard.
“Now, there is a safe and accessible pathway, and snow removal equipment can keep the trail open for pedestrians all winter long. It’s so much safer for everyone, and it’s definitely getting a lot of use,” says Anderson.
Traffic calming measures improve safety
Residents who live near the public high school are enjoying new traffic calming measures. Improvements include a new traffic signal and pedestrian crossing system. The system can detect pedestrians crossing the street, and is able to extend crossing times for slower walkers. Crosswalks were also painted with retro-reflectivity.
“This project had a huge impact on people living, traveling and commuting in the area,” says Anderson. “It drastically improved the safety for pedestrians near the high school, and on the recreation trail near one of the fastest growing residential areas in town. It also improved flow of traffic, particularly during busy school hours,” she adds. “It’s eased a lot of frustration, for sure, and improved safety tremendously.’”
Quit Kits combat rise in tobacco use
When assessment work in the community revealed an increase in tobacco use, particularly with vaping among adolescents and adults, the Avera Addiction Care Center (AACC) spearheaded a community-wide effort to put Quit Kits into the hands of people who need them. The program began in February 2022, and in total, 1,500 kits were available at 18 different locations, such as doctor’s offices and schools.
According to Jordan Mounga, who managed the AACC program, the kits provided information about free resources with the South Dakota Quit Line External Site, as well as helpful cessation medication such as gum and mints. Thirty individuals were successfully enrolled in the program thanks to these efforts.
What’s next for Aberdeen?
Aberdeen is on a roll with no slowing down in sight. Currently, the Chamber of Commerce is working on a workplace mental wellness initiative for employer groups, to direct people to helpful area resources. Their Health and Wellness Committee also recently kicked off the Hub City Healthy Eats External Site program to promote healthy items found on local menus.
Future projects include a new playground and an edible orchard, as well as a vegetable gleaning program with the farmer’s market network, to distribute excess produce to local food banks.
Anderson recommends taking the time to work with Healthy Hometown. “Wellmark has been a great partner, and they have amazing resources,” she says. “They have the staff, information and ideas.”
“The first couple of years we stumbled a little bit,” adds Anderson. “It took us a while to get started. But we found our way through. It’s a great way to find what will work for your community. With time, you’ll find a rhythm and the right people to keep things going.”
Learn more about Healthy Hometown
The Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark Community Award is an annual award that celebrates the successes of communities in Iowa and South Dakota that are working to make their hometowns healthier, more active places to live. If you want to follow in Aberdeen’s footsteps and make positive changes to your community, check out Healthy Hometown online Opens New Window or email HealthyHometown@Wellmark.com Send Email for more information.