“You can’t walk the walk if you don’t talk the talk.” These words from Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) Project Coordinator Ben Epperson describe the process to create a healthier environment in Knox County.
With HKHC support, the Knox County Health Department empowers residents in the Inskip, Lonsdale and Mascot communities to create their own grassroots-level policy and environmental changes.
With 25 percent of children living in poverty, 30 percent considered obese and one of the worst air qualities in the nation, it seemed like a tall order to make health a priority in Knox County. It was especially difficult to address concerns in each of the three communities that have historically struggled with poor community cohesiveness.
To begin the assessment process, the health department reached out to key leaders to brainstorm and learn about each community’s unique culture, values and vision. HKHC leadership then hosted a series of community meetings to hear directly from residents about improvements they would like to see in their neighborhoods. With these key insights and perspectives, the health department collected information through walking audits, action teams and interviews.
Advocating for Health
The next step was to organize community members through neighborhood associations and advocacy groups. Residents began actively participating at regular meetings and voicing their opinions to create strategic goals and a unified vision. Community members, through training and planning, were now empowered to begin implementation. Some initial policy and environmental changes included:
• Inskip residents painted a street mural in front of Inskip Elementary School to raise awareness about the need for traffic calming measures in school neighborhoods.
• Lonsdale community members formed a Walking School Bus program at Lonsdale Elementary School to increase access to safe routes to school for all children.
• The Greater Mascot Area Community group secured a much-needed water fountain at Mascot Park so kids could stay longer to enjoy the park.
With these successes, local leaders and partner organizations now realize the economic and safety benefits of healthier neighborhoods. Inskip was recently selected by the City of Knoxville Traffic Engineering Division to become a Neighborhood Enforcement Zone, marking the first step toward true traffic calming. Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero requested an unprecedented 16 new crosswalks throughout Lonsdale to aid the Walking School Bus program. Finally, the Greater Mascot Area Community group created a long-term park improvement plan, with expertise from the East Tennessee Community Design Center.
Advocating for Health
The theme of HKHC work in Knox County has been and will continue to be community empowerment. Residents have begun to see their hard work pay off and are now ready for more. Anita Case, an active participant of Inskip Community Association and the Paint the Pavement initiative says, “Becoming involved with Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities has been such a rewarding process and really showed that when you volunteer, you get back much more than you give.”
With increased support and funding, residents also have the opportunity to participate in Eat Play Live initiatives. Partners organize these free community build days at the park to help families become directly involved in local food sources and physical activity opportunities. Project plans include goals like installation of neighborhood signs, orchard planting and Paint the Paint the Pavement projects.
Moving forward, the Knox County Health Department will continue to work with residents to reach out to collaborators and implement strategic policy and environmental changes. Epperson says, “As a government entity, on-the-ground community empowerment is crucial. You have to help the community by walking alongside them with guidance and patience.”