In Chattanooga, Step ONE facilitated a healthy community partnership named Grow Healthy Together Chattanooga with the purpose of including and lifting the voices of more community members and leaders in the East and South Chattanooga communities. Strong facilitative leadership from staff and technical assistance from partners helped to establish and provide varied training for two resident-led Leadership Advisory Councils. These councils developed priorities in each of the targeted communities and achieved many policy and environmental changes.
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Below those vistas lie serious challenges for some residents. While the city’s median household income in 2010 was $35,817, 33,000 people living in the East Chattanooga and South Chattanooga communities did not fare as well. About 29 percent of residents fell below the federal poverty level. Thirty-five percent of adults lacked a high school diploma, 15 percent of the population suffered from diabetes, 43 percent suffered from high cholesterol and 71 percent of adults in these communities were considered obese or overweight. These health challenges were further exacerbated by issues of safety and other social determinants of health. In the South Chattanooga community, for example, the neighborhood’s one playground was located between two industrial areas.
However, local leaders aimed to change that equation when Step ONE, a program run by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, applied for a Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) grant in 2009. With this funding, the Grow Healthy Together Chattanooga (GHTC) partnership was formed. Together with public and private partners at the city, county and state levels, they began efforts to reduce and prevent childhood obesity by increasing access to healthy fruits and vegetables, expanding options for physical activity in area parks and recreation facilities, and making streets and other infrastructure safe for pedestrians and bicyclists in these high-risk communities.
GHTC has successfully captured and leveraged the energy and commitment of residents and community stakeholders. They have made policy and environmental changes which have resulted in improved access to healthy eating and opportunities for physical activity for residents in the East and South Chattanooga communities. Leadership Advisory Councils in both places create an infrastructure which builds upon community capacity and promotes the empowerment of grassroots leadership.
Additionally, efforts are underway to create an open use policy and shared-use agreements with schools throughout Hamilton County, which will allow residents to use the playgrounds outside of school operating hours. When accomplished, more than 40 playgrounds throughout Hamilton County will be open for community access.
Project Director John Bilderback said, “Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities has been a strong rallying point for partnership here in Chattanooga. There is no doubt that it has brought together organizations and agencies along with residents in the communities to help realize a healthier future for our children.”