As we celebrate Active Living By Design’s 10th Anniversary, we want to thank those who serve and have served on our team. Their contributions helped our organization develop into what it is today. To help us commemorate this milestone, many staff – past and present – took time to share their reflections about ALBD, and the impact it has had on their current work. It has been an incredible ten years, and we look forward to many more, as we collectively work to create a legacy of healthier communities across the country.
Active Living By Design Staff and Alumni Reflections:
Project Officer, Active Living By Design
Consultant, Crisler Coaching and Consulting
Director of Communications, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation
Project Officer, Active Living By Design
Florida Relationship Manager, Alliance for a Healthier Generation
Project Officer, Active Living By Design
Social Research Specialist, UNC-CH Center Health Promotion Disease Prevention
Program Coordinator, Prevention Institute
Research Project Director, Duke School of Nursing
Mary Beth Powell
Deputy Director, Active Living By Design
Research Coordinator, Active Living Research
Research Assistant, UNC-CH
Director, Active Living By Design
Jessica Hughes Wagner
Health Education Coordinator II, University of Texas at Austin
Jen Gilchrist Walker
Program Advisor, Transform Wisconsin
Project Officer, Active Living By Design
One thing is clear from my experience at ALBD: small investments in and support for communities can lead to incredible impacts on people, relationships, government officials and neighborhoods. The exact “recipes” differ, but healthy community change initiatives succeed because of the heart, vision and persistence of a handful of servant-leaders. Committed partners and community leaders are critical ingredients in broadening and amplifying healthy eating and active living work, and ultimately making real changes happen. Back to Top
Having spent five remarkable years working with ALBD, and being away for the past two, I have the following insights:
I realize this all sounds a bit negative for my future work life, but it is mostly because I decided to move far away and work for myself. How, after all, could I ever find a workplace that could live up to ALBD? I was quite sure that I could not, and the thought did not sit well with me. So, I carry what I have learned with me throughout my career and share it with others, hoping to inspire and improve workplaces and others’ personal work-life balance. I have been so inspired by practically everything about ALBD and thank you sincerely for allowing me to be a part of it. Happy 10th anniversary, I see a very impressive past and super bright future ahead for you. Back to Top
Mondays often provoke a dreaded gloom in many folks as they head back to work or school. I always headed to work with joy because I was doing what I believed in. I worked among tireless, passionate friends who believe in their work and share a common ethos to help each community. It is very humbling to have worked with organizations, researchers, funders and community leaders as they joined together a decade to lift up the issue of the built environment. What may be common sense now was a novel approach, and the inclusion of so many different partners along the way has made this journey memorable and successful. Each person I met or worked with provided an opportunity to learn about their expertise or experience.
From Jackson Mississippi’s Washington Addition to the Iron Range in northern Minnesota, barriers to physical activity and healthy eating may be similar but solutions have to be rooted in the communities’ own history and voice. I also was very fortunate to work with amazing people, partner organizations, communication consultants, staff and graduate students at UNC and grantees across North Carolina and the United States. Every interaction has been enriching and inspiring. Looking back on a decade of Active Living By Design left me with strong feelings about this country and our collective resourcefulness. Despite the larger trends and seemingly immovable systems, I have great hope. We may not be a country that is making as many things as we used to, but our community spirit and ingenuity is strong in fixing things like our food systems, our school lunches, our playgrounds, and our walks and bikes to school. Step by step, row by row and mile by mile, people are coming together and changing a world that currently prioritizes speed, convenience and fast food. The end result is more than just good health but a reverence for each other and the places we live. I see this fire even stronger in the youth of today who care about city policies in the fifth grade. The future looks very bright indeed. Back to Top
Becoming a member of the ALBD team has enabled me to participate in a movement dedicated to advancing the health of urban and rural communities across the United States. The opportunity to assist and support communities in identifying and responding to various structural, political and social determinants that limit access to physical activity and healthy eating continues to inspire me and reaffirm my belief that all communities deserve environments that make healthy choices the easy choices. Among its many operating principles and values, ALBD works tirelessly to promote field building and customized, equitable grassroots capacity building to support leadership development opportunities that can help sustain this important work. Working with the ALBD team continues to be an honor and a privilege. Back to Top
Rich Killingsworth, former Director of ALBD (2002-2005), hired me as an intern in 2002. I loved working on the special issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion: Health Promoting Community Design, and helping review the first round of ALBD grant proposals. I lived the mission by walking to work and recruiting other Health Behavior and Health Education [MPH] students to ALBD. Interning at ALBD for two years set me on a path to a rewarding career in public health. After receiving my MPH, I worked at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland and have spent the last six years in Florida at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation promoting healthy eating and active living in schools across the country. Here’s to the next ten successful years, ALBD! Thank you! Back to Top
Inspired, hopeful and excited have been strong and consistent themes throughout my tenure with ALBD. The leaders and partnerships in the communities with whom I have had the privilege of working, and who face the realities and challenges every day with perseverance and passion, have been sources of inspiration. Our partners in communities, organizations and coalitions have been open and eager to explore what was once new or different ways of affecting and investing in community change. They have led efforts to broaden the conversation and field beyond health to community development and equity, and have infused more hope in the future of the field. My ALBD colleagues, who genuinely care about the people and communities with whom we work, who “walk the talk” with regards to active living and healthy eating, who are always supportive, have and continue to make me excited and appreciative to be part of the team. Back to Top
I only worked at ALBD for a year [as a graduate assistant], but I have much appreciation for that time and a list of fond memories. I often think back on what might seem like mundane parts of working there: Monday meetings and temperature checks, the “Weaver Train,” Friday physical activity and annotated agendas. I also frequently think about the values that ALBD embodies, including strong leadership and an appreciation for reflection, group process, team problem-solving, and group decision-making. Beyond that, I found everyone’s passion for and dedication to the work palpable and infectious. I count my year with ALBD as one of my most formative professional experiences – it will continue to shape my life in significant ways. I’m grateful to have been a part of it! Back to Top
I met Sarah Strunk on my first day of work at Sustainable South Bronx (SSB) in 2005. I was attending a communications training in Maryland and I was nervous, scared, and had no idea what active living meant. How was I going to coordinate an effort in the South Bronx when I knew nothing about public health? My concerns quickly dissipated from the moment that I met Sarah and the ALBD staff because everyone was supportive and excited that I would be joining the ALBD movement. I not only became well versed in active living terminology, I became an advocate for the field. Working with ALBD made me realize that behavior is about changing environments and working with individuals. I received guidance from my project officer, Rich Bell, on what the 5P model could look like in the South Bronx, which included the first ever Hunts Point Hustle, a 5k run through the Hunts Point community, which complemented our policy efforts. I’m proud to say that the Hunts Point Hustle has run for five consecutive years and has continued to showcase the new parks and streetscape plans in the neighborhood.
My ALBD journey did not end with the project in the Bronx. At the 2006 ProWalk ProBike conference in Madison, WI, I was invited by ALBD to present on SSB’s active living work. Afterward, Sarah approached me about my future plans and asked if I had thought about graduate school. That conversation led me to pursue dual masters’ degrees in Transportation Planning and Health Behavior at UNC and where I become a graduate assistant ALBD. During my three years at ALBD, I gained a national perspective on what active living and healthy eating look like in different communities. I cannot thank ALBD or Sarah enough for all you have given me, in terms of professional development and growth, I only hope that I can pass on the lessons that I have learned to others. Congratulations on the anniversary I can’t wait to celebrate future milestones! Back to Top
Research Project Director, Duke University School of Nursing
I was a part of the ALBD team during the first year of my master’s program at UNC. ALBD supported me with tuition and work that I greatly benefited from and still appreciate today. They provided unbelievable support when my mother fell ill and later passed. I could not have asked for a more understanding group during that time. I will always think of their active Fridays, playing kickball and ultimate Frisbee. I only wish all jobs could be like that everywhere. Back to Top
I remember when Active Living By Design first began in 2002, because I was working for an applied research center on campus engaged in similar work. I watched with amazement and admiration as ALBD grew in size and stature and made its mark in the healthy communities world. When the opportunity arose for me to become a part of this team and I was hired, I was ecstatic. Only later would I realize how carefully ALBD works to make sure each hire is a good fit. In the five years that I’ve been a member of this team and integrally involved in this work, I have grown in ways I never would have dreamed. The passion that each staff member has for this work and for his/her co-workers is palpable, and the collective energy of this team and those with whom we are privileged to work seems to have no limit. I am grateful for this opportunity and, at the end of each day, feel proud that our collective efforts may have contributed to people leading healthier, happier lives. Back to Top
I was only at ALBD for a year, but the time turned out to be an opportunity that really directed me in life. I came to ALBD the summer before my second year of graduate school at the UNC Department of City and Regional Planning, and was one of a few graduate student assistants. I had previously only been interested in transportation planning because of my distaste for sitting in traffic. ALBD opened my eyes to the built environment and to the connection to health and physical activity. It is great to see that the program has been working in the active living field for ten years, and I am sure the staff has positively impacted many other students like me. I’m proud to say that the entire group served as my impromptu career advisors. My favorite and most well remembered part of ALBD was Friday physical activity sessions. Thankfully, I still have the privilege of working in the built environment and public health field and with ALBD staff in my current role at Active Living Research, another RWJF-supported program. And while I am now in San Diego, nothing will ever be quite like Chapel Hill. Back to Top
Research Assistant, UNC-Chapel Hill
For me, ALBD is an embodiment of data to action. It is about all the dedication, critical thinking, and engagement necessary to support change based on research findings. The “evidence-based program” has become such a buzzword in the policy arena, but there are not enough examples of how to scale a program up outside of its initial conception. It is rare to have such a diverse set of examples with such successful outcomes that truly capture community-driven action. My time at ALBD will continue to shape how I undertake research for the rest of my career. Back to Top
I first came to ALBD as an undergrad almost a decade ago. I was studying advertising and medical anthropology at UNC, and was thrilled to find an internship doing communication work in the health and wellness arena. I grew up in a small town in North Carolina, where the idea of walking or biking anywhere on a country never crossed my mind. As I began to work with Mark Dessauer and the ALBD team to tell the grantees’ stories, I found myself undoing the lifelong connections in my brain about what it means to be healthy, as an individual or as a community. I was challenged to think and communicate about how prevention and community change looks from town to town across the United States. All while making time for Friday afternoon physical activity with the ALBD team.
I moved to Washington, DC after graduation but found myself answering Chapel Hill’s siren call a few years later when I returned to UNC for an MPH program. I rejoined the ALBD crew for my second tour as a graduate assistant, armed with a now more clearly defined focus on health communication and social marketing. Currently, I lead health promotion programs and environmental change strategies at the University of Texas at Austin. From small town 19-year-old to proud ALBD alumna, I can confidently say the experiences and mentors afforded to me at ALBD have paved my path as a person who “walks the talk”. In many ways, I grew up as a public health professional within the bike-lined walls of ALBD. Many thanks and congratulations, ALBD! Back to Top
When I started at Active Living By Design as a public health graduate research assistant in 2004, I came with a love for promoting routine exercise but, ironically, was relatively unconscious of the beauties of actual active living. I hadn’t actively commuted anywhere since high school, and that was only because I had no car and was lucky enough to grow up in a town where I could walk to school. Riding a bike to work on purpose? Too scary, too sweaty, too inconvenient. If the thought had ever crossed my mind, it was quickly dismissed. Well, that changed about one year later. How could I resist with a bicycle at the office to borrow, a shower on the premises and a number of colleagues who proved it was both possible and fun?
My time at ALBD was marked by a parallel journey of bravery and curiosity born of an environment that nurtured it, and an inner desire to make a positive difference in the world. I was always treated as a future leader in the active living and healthy eating movement, just as ALBD treats all staff, students and visiting colleagues. I loved the work of impacting health at the community level and was able to stay on for a second graduate degree and beyond that as the Fit Community project manager. I learned from ALBD’s example innumerable tangible and intangible skills essential for building partnerships around complex work, taking time for internal reflection, being organized and intentional, always seeking ways to improve, the list could go on. I feel lucky on a daily basis to have been a part of such a remarkable organization and to have been shaped personally and professionally by the tremendous people who I consider my colleagues, mentors and friends. It’s a journey that is still taking me to new places, currently as a Program Advisor for the Transform Wisconsin grant initiative to create healthier communities across the state, and for that I am grateful.
So, congratulations ALBD on celebrating ten years! It’s inspiring to think of all the stories, both individuals’ and communities’, in which this organization has played a positive and catalyzing role. Here’s to your next ten years and beyond. So many of us ALBD alums and admirers will be looking to your continued wisdom and leadership as we continue the work of creating healthier communities together! Back to Top
I’ve noticed several encouraging trends over the last ten years. I believe the work has deepened. When our Active Living by Design grant began, programs and promotions more often trumped work in policy and environmental change. No longer. Rather, they seem now to be most often used as intentional levers to help influence policy and environmental change. Partnerships are more deeply connected with resident leaders and are committed to more meaningful forms of community engagement. Equity is now a prominent part of the conversation and a promising focus of the work. Clearly, there’s still a lot to learn and a long way to go. However, I am confident that the demand for more livable places has reached a tipping point. The momentum is carrying forward a new generation of leaders who will accept nothing less than equitable, healthy places to live, work and play. Back to Top