Charleston, West Virginia


Excerpt from Lessons for Leaders:

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.

For more information, read the full story.

July 2014

In West Virginia’s largest city, which lies in the shadow of the gold-domed state Capitol, many children and families struggle to put healthy food on the table and lead active lives. Charleston may be modest in size compared with larger population centers in neighboring states, but it certainly has challenges that are common to many urban communities. In two Charleston neighborhoods, residents suffer more from obesity and poor health in addition to persistent poverty, crime and unemployment. According to Dr. Jamie Jeffrey, pediatrician and champion for local obesity prevention efforts, “Parents are struggling to find affordable, healthy foods and safe places for their children to be active close to home.” 

The West Side and East End neighborhoods began as the epicenter of KEYS 4 HealthyKids (KEYS), an initiative that addresses both traditional Appalachian diets and sedentary living among residents. While personal motivation for a healthy a lifestyle is clearly important, these neighborhoods lacked adequate stores selling affordable healthy foods. In addition, safe nearby parks and active places for children were in short supply. Quality sidewalks were non-existent in many areas.

The KEYS approach starts with community organizing to encourage grassroots efforts and collaboration, and it now boasts 40 organizational partners. The invaluable allies that helped establish KEYS and ensure its success include the Kanawha Coalition for Community Health Improvement, Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, Charleston Area Alliance, West Virginia University Extension Office, YMCA of Kanawha Valley, the City of Charleston and others. KEYS initially focused within the West Side and East End neighborhoods to improve parks for children, increase community gardens and create healthier childcare environments. “People are so used to seeing programs come and go,” Dr. Jeffrey said. “But the changes we’re seeking will be permanent. Once people see that and the benefits, it will keep the movement going.”

The KEYS initiative, with funding through Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities, has not only been able to establish successful efforts in two Charleston neighborhoods, it also evolved beyond the city’s boundaries. In fact, the KEYS approach has now spread into other Kanawha County towns and throughout the broader region of Central West Virginia, thanks to ongoing investment from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and technical assistance from KEYS partners.

Key accomplishments:

  • Conducted trainings and provided technical assistance for 18 childcare organizations, thereby improving the childcare centers’ nutrition and physical activity practices, policies and environments. KEYS partners used the NAP SACC (Nutrition and Physical Activity Self Assessment for Childcare Centers) model to instill healthy habits in their youngest citizens.
  • Created or enhanced seven community gardens in the Charleston area. The produce went directly to the tables of kids and families working in the gardens, and the surplus food was distributed to local food banks and homeless shelters.
  • Established a School and Youth Garden Support Network in partnership with West Virginia University Extension. Through this network, KEYS created 12 school gardens, ranging from simple mushroom bags in the classroom to outdoor raised beds. The network also developed curriculum content to incorporate gardening into the lessons of 26 classrooms for 628 children.
  • Developed a KEYS Youth Council, which builds leadership and advocacy skills among Charleston area middle school students. The Youth Council has conducted and presented its PhotoVoice findings to the West Virginia School-Based Health Assembly, conducted environmental audits and helped government officials prioritize improvements to city parks for play and city streets for greater walkability.
  • For the first time, the City of Charleston incorporated healthy, active living as a priority in the newly adopted “Imagine Charleston” comprehensive plan. Not only does the plan include a separate health chapter, it addresses specifications to make Charleston a more walkable and bikeable community. In addition, future downtown housing will promote active transportation and city policies will support community gardens, urban agriculture and healthy food options at all city events.
  • “KEYS 4 HealthyKids Toolkit: A Guide for Creating a Healthy Community” was developed as a step-by-step process for replicating KEYS 4 HealthyKids work in their other communities. KEYS has offered technical assistance through a peer learning network to guide professionals and advocates through their five-step process.

For more information, view a short film about their work.

Charleston, West Virginia