Healthier Together Calhoun
By Shanda Ashley, Calhoun County Extension coordinator; Alicia Varnum, Calhoun County family connections coordinator; Melinda Miller, SWD 4-H Program development coordinator; Andrea Scarrow, SWD Family & Consumer Sciences PDC
Nestled in the far southwest corner of Georgia lies small, rural Calhoun County with a population of just about 6,500. Community leaders were surprised to learn that it has one of the highest obesity rates in the state of Georgia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In an effort to provide resources to address obesity and other health related issues in rural counties, such as Calhoun, the CDC offered grants in the fall of 2016. UGA Extension was awarded a two-year CDC grant to promote health and wellness education, physical activity, and increased access to healthier foods in hopes of significantly addressing obesity prevention. The grant also provides funding for a program assistant to assist Calhoun county extension staff with implementation of prevention efforts.
UGA Extension, the College of Public Health and the College of Family and Consumer Sciences are working with the CDC and a strong community coalition to make Calhoun County a healthier place to live, work and play. “Healthier Together Calhoun” is the name of the coalition passionate about making a difference and leading prevention efforts in the county. Members represent local law enforcement, health professionals, retirees, pastors, churches, schools, educators, nurses, elected officials, business owners, farmers and volunteers. The coalition members represent all four municipalities of Morgan, Arlington, Edison and Leary as well as the Calhoun County Board of Commissioners.
After several meetings facilitated by UGA’s Fanning Institute for Leadership, the group developed an implementation plan to meet three main goals. Those goals are to increase:
• health educational opportunities among each of the municipalities;
• access to healthier foods and beverages; and
• access to opportunities to be physically active.
Each work group agreed to strategies with various tasks that will be completed by volunteers, Extension staff, 4-H’ers and collaborating agencies. Here are some of the ongoing efforts:
1. A monthly calendar is developed with exercise suggestions, exercise group meeting times, Extension programs and other community health resources. The calendar is inserted into the monthly Family Connections newsletter with a monthly circulation of 450, distributed to numerous locations throughout the county.
2. In less than a year, a community garden was created at the Extension office in Morgan, which will produce a fall harvest this year. ANR agents and VISTA members provide expertise and assistance in maintaining the garden.
3. The 4-H staff implemented an after-school fitness and nutrition 4-H club, which met for eight weeks and is continuing through the summer months. Ten youth attend regularly with a waiting list. Shanda Ashley, Calhoun County Extension coordinator and 4-H agent, teaches Yoga for Kids classes reaching 20 youths weekly. She uses 4-H Friends Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles and 4-H HOPE (Helping Other People Eat) lessons, reaching 220 students in schools. Lessons introduce youth to USDA’s My Plate concepts, the importance of drinking water and limiting sugar, portion control, increasing fruits and vegetables, reading food labels, and including physical activity every day.
4. Extension staff and 4-H members have set up fruit-infused water bars at local events and health fairs, coalition meetings, 4-H summer activities and the senior center, reaching over 400 citizens.
5. All summer Extension events are focused on healthy eating, such as a cooking school for kids and fun physical fitness opportunities like skating, yoga and going to 4-H summer camp.
6. Family and Consumer Sciences agents taught a Cancer Prevention Cooking School for adults, with over 20 Calhoun County residents in attendance. More programs are planned in the near future.
UGA Extension is honored to accept the challenge of leading the community in developing obesity prevention strategies that continue to be evaluated and supported by the CDC and partnering colleges. UGA Extension in Calhoun County is proud to collaborate to innovate! Thanks to the valuable resources of the CDC, UGA Extension, UGA’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences, UGA’s College of Public Health, and a strong local coalition, this community will be Healthier Together Calhoun!