The Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) partnership and Creciendo en Salud have taken a strategic approach to work across disciplines and create new opportunities to be active for more residents in Benton County.
Ana and her family contemplated what to do with the “prescription” for physical activity given to them by their doctor. Ana, a 13-year-old teenager in Benton County, OR was pre-diabetic and struggled with her weight and uncontrolled asthma. During her most recent primary care appointment, her pediatrician recommended she get more physical activity. Similar to many teenagers and parents, her family had limited money to spend on gym memberships or exercise equipment. Ana’s family learned about the Corvallis Parks and Recreation Family Assistance Program, which makes participation in city-sponsored classes and activities more accessible by offering scholarships or eliminating fees altogether. This program offered the perfect opportunity for Ana and her mother to fill that prescription; they now walk together to attend Zumba classes once a week.
How it happened
Ana’s story is not unique, and Benton County, along with the City of Corvallis, wanted to alleviate barriers for families such as hers to access services and lead healthier lives. Through the HKHC grant and Creciendo en Salud, the partnership took a strategic and innovative approach by working across disciplines to create a city-county staff position located in both the City’s Parks and Recreation Department and the Benton County Health Department. The position fostered more communication and a stronger relationship among key city and county departments, including the school system and other community services. Through policy changes within these organizations, more members of the Latino community have access to opportunities to engage in physical activity.
One example of a coordinated approach is the Family Assistance Program, which had struggled with low utilization rates. The Parks and Recreation Department recognized it was their own policies that created barriers. The department streamlined the application process to make it easier for community members to participate. Coordinating closely with Benton County’s bilingual and bicultural community, Health Navigators, the department now pre-qualifies applicants who already participate in other services, like WIC, Medicaid or reduced/free lunch programs. They were also intentional about offering classes in areas convenient for those in Corvallis’ Latino neighborhoods. The combination of policy revisions, a simplified application process, and culturally appropriate outreach has contributed to more low-income children getting more physical activity. Administratively, it means that Family Assistance Program participants have increased their utilization of scholarships from 15% to 64% over a 24-month period.
Sustaining the Program
The Family Assistance Program thrives without creating an increased burden on taxpayers. The Corvallis Parks and Recreation Department, through financial restructuring, pays itself by redistributing revenue generated from services that have a greater individual benefit to help offset the cost of services that benefit the community, like the Family Assistance Program. Revenue from events, such as local 5K races and facility rentals, go right back into the community and allow the department to offer more services to more people. The restructuring not only extends benefits to low-income residents who are interested in parks and recreation activities but also helps the department run more efficiently.
Benefiting Benton County
More families and children like Ana are now eligible to participate in the city’s parks and recreation services because the city is making changes within existing systems, instead of creating new procedures or unintended obstacles to participation. With the Family Assistance Program, the Parks and Recreation Department now fills classes with residents who were not involved before, classes that otherwise may have been cancelled. The need for more physical activity is great, and the Parks and Recreation Department is filling it.
The Family Assistance Program already aligns with established community plans to create a healthier and more active place to live. For example, the program builds social capital in the county, fulfilling part of the Corvallis 2020 Vision Statement of “an involved citizenry that actively participates in public policy and decision making.” Along with other HKHC-led initiatives, the Family Assistance Program cultivates the relationship between local government and the Latino community. The Parks and Recreation Department, along with the Benton County Health Department, is now more intentional about involving community members in the process and responding to their input. Another example of the program’s alignment is with the Benton County Comprehensive Plan. This initiative specifically identifies and supports the intent of programs like the Family Assistance Program in its outdoor recreational needs: “to maintain a park and open space system that represents the heritage and natural and scenic qualities of Benton County and provides outdoor recreation opportunities that contribute to healthy individuals, children, and families.”
Sharing in the Success
This work has positioned Benton County as a health leader in Oregon. Other cities, big and small, are interested in how they are engaging the community, building a successful program and creating new physical activity opportunities for more residents. For example, the HKHC partnership has provided technical assistance to their colleagues in Houston, TX to replicate a similar model in order to create new opportunities for physical activity for low-income residents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also awarded them a Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant to expand their successes in reducing barriers among low-income Latino communities to other areas of the region.
As for Ana, she has adopted healthier habits because of the Family Assistance Program. As a result of her and her mother’s participation in Zumba and walking to and from class, she no longer needs her diabetes medication. And friends in her community have noticed. Ana and her mom are not the only two walking more; they have recruited other mother and daughter pairs to join them!