Risa Wilkerson is the Executive Director of Active Living By Design (ALBD). She provides overarching leadership and strategic vision to fulfill the organization’s mission of creating community-led change by working with local, state, and national partners to build a culture of active living and healthy eating. Risa has been connected to ALBD since 2002, when she was a grantee of the organization. She joined the team in 2008 as a Senior Project Officer, and provided coaching, technical assistance, and grant oversight to multidisciplinary community-based partnerships across the country, with a focus on improving health through policy, systems, and environmental change strategies. From 2014-2015, she also served as ALBD’s Marketing and Communications Director and, subsequently, Associate Executive Director.
Risa brings wide-ranging experience in coalition building, community assessment, public health program planning and implementation, grant writing, and nonprofit management. She provides leadership to the field by serving as the Safe Routes to School National Partnership’s Board Chair, as a sector chair to the National Physical Activity Plan, and as a member of the Prescription for Activity Task Force.
Before moving to North Carolina, Risa was the Vice President of Active Communities for the Michigan Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports, where she led project teams in a statewide effort to create active communities. Risa holds an M.A. in Communication from Michigan State University. She is also an alumna of the University of South Carolina’s Physical Activity and Public Health Course, a training program sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At home, Risa loves to spend time with her husband, Doug, go for runs, kayak North Carolina’s beautiful rivers and lakes, read, write, and hang out with her children and grandchild.
I was hit by a car when I was 15 because of bad hair. I grew up in a small rural community in Michigan. The town is still one square mile with a yellow blinking light at the center and a few stop signs. Streets have always accommodated the horses and buggies of the local Amish people, school buses, farm equipment and cars. In-town students typically walked or biked to school, and sidewalks were prevalent.
Our football field was a half-mile from the high school, and our marching band walked there and back for practices. A “bad perm” received hours before band practice had me embarrassed about my hair. So, when practice ended, I took off running with my hood up. I ran right out into an intersection and was hit. Thankfully, I was only bruised.
I had no idea then that I’d be promoting walkable communities. I got into the work serendipitously. My commitment has grown stronger over time, especially as I’ve seen parents grieve for their child who died while trying to cross a dangerous road to get to or from school. I’ve also lost a family member who was killed walking alongside a road with no sidewalk. Her three young children will grow up not knowing their mother. I know this work is of critical importance, and I am humbled to be involved.
In my rural hometown, small dairy, hog and chicken farms were prevalent. My grandparents were farmers. My parents and many others had backyard gardens, and people readily shared their harvests (whether you wanted it or not!). As a result, I love fresh tomatoes, peppers and zucchini. I now share a garden with my good friend and neighbor. And I’m fortunate to live where healthy, fresh food is plentiful. I am impassioned to help others have the same benefits and am privileged to work with community leaders making that more possible for more and more people every day.