Nestled among the pine trees of the Black Hills and surrounded by parks and monuments that practically demand exploration, Rapid City, South Dakota, is a town that naturally encourages its visitors to get outside and move.
But for those who live in the city year-round, the natural beauty that encourages health and wellness can be taken for granted or even completely forgotten. Recognizing this, Rapid City residents knew that more could be done to make their home a Healthy Hometown. They decided it was time to embrace the ideas of eating well, moving more, and feeling better.
So, when the Live Well Black Hills Coalition of Rapid City decided to focus on the health and well-being of the city, they aimed high.
“We wanted to be the healthiest community in the country so that’s what we have strived for,” says Deanna Becket, facilitator of the Live Well Black Hills Coalition.
With the expert assistance of Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark Opens New Window, Rapid City made great strides in 2018 toward that goal. The city made it easier to access healthy foods, encouraged movement for residents of all ages, and implemented improvements to infrastructure that make living healthy an attractive and practical option.
Thanks to these efforts, Rapid City was a recipient of the inaugural 2018 Healthy Hometown Community Award.
“I was pretty excited,” says Becket. “It felt good to know that our efforts paid off and that we could come back and say look what we did.”
Feeding the community
The Live Well Black Hills Coalition recently worked with the city to expand its community garden program, creating more space for residents to grow their own food.
Becket recalls that working in her family’s garden when she was young was a chore she once loathed, but has learned to appreciate what a garden can provide in terms of both food and personal gratification.
“I hated working in the garden as a kid,” she says. “When I graduated high school I swore I’d never have a garden, but I came back to it and really enjoy every aspect of it now.”
The community gardens provide not only much-needed healthy food for the community, but healthy, enjoyable activity as well.
“Kids come down to the community garden and are really excited to help out,” she says. “There is also a gentleman who works in the garden a lot who says the work has given him new hope and purpose that helped him distance himself from problems he’s had with alcohol and drugs.”
Getting their move on
Creating better access to healthy food is just part of the effort underway in Rapid City. The Live Well Black Hills Coalition is also working closely with city leaders, private organizations and others to encourage residents to engage in healthy movement as a part of daily life.
The city of Rapid City already improved and expanded on an existing trail in the town by widening the path and replacing broken concrete. The Live Well Black Hills Coalition established initiatives that promote physical activity for child care centers and created workplace wellness programs to encourage people to get exercise and make healthy choices on the job.
They’ve encouraged child care centers to have a written policy that requires physical movement each day and they are promoting the use of “walking school busses” at area schools as well. A walking school bus is a community-led effort to create safe, organized routes that encourage and allow for groups of kids to walk to school with adult volunteers.
The Live Well Black Hills Coalition is also working closely with the city and leading efforts to ensure sidewalks are put in place at all new businesses. Often, when a new company moves in to the area, they request a waiver to the sidewalk requirement. Live Well Black Hills responds immediately to these requests and asks the city to deny them. The coalition has been successful in the efforts so far, ensuring that safe walkways are available for residents. This will not only support healthy exercise, but will also encourage more foot traffic to local businesses.
“The work we’ve been doing has been really impactful," says Jamie Heymans, community health specialist and community relations at Regional Health. “The child care program is really important for promoting physical activity among youth, and encouraging the creation of healthy habits early in life.”
Though Rapid City has already become a healthier city, it’s not ready to call it a day just yet. The Live Well Black Hills Coalition is already building on their successes and creating new opportunities for healthy living.
With the $5,000 award earned as a Healthy Hometown Community Award winner, they plan to further build relationships among groups already working on community health and wellness issues, and create opportunities for these organizations to work together.
“We want to provide support for organizations who are already doing great work in this area,” says Heymans. “We’re working on a Passports to Wellness program — which we hope to kick off in the summer — that will allow these organizations to collaborate and reach out to the community.”
The Passports to Wellness program will allow groups working on health and wellness issues to take turns hosting events for the public. Each participant will get a passport that can be stamped at every event and turned in for prizes or rewards at the end of the program.
“There are a lot of people here who are passionate about what we’re doing and want to see people get healthy and moving,” says Becket. “Science has proven that having healthy, engaged and active residents has a positive effect on the entire community, and we’re really starting to see that in Rapid City now.”
Want to make your community healthier?
Learn how Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark can provide expert assistance to help your community eat well, move more and feel better. Check out Healthy Hometown online Opens New Window or email HealthyHometown@Wellmark.com Send Email for more information.