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WVU and CDC partnership helps build healthy futures in southern West Virginia

Basket of fresh foods and water bottle for McDowell residents

A year ago, a group of passionate West Virginia University employees set out to promote healthier futures for two southern West Virginia counties by empowering the community and offering the support they needed to take control of their own health.

In October 2018, faculty from WVU Extension Service, WVU College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, and WVU School of Public Health and West Virginia Prevention Research Center entered into a five-year contractual partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and launched the Be Wild, Be Wonderful, Be Healthy project.

Funded by the CDC’s High Obesity Program, Be Wild, Be Wonderful, Be Healthy is a community-based project that aims to create local solutions for our state’s health-related challenges by supporting projects in Clay and McDowell counties that increase access to physical activity and healthy foods.

“The ultimate goal is to help the communities, to empower them to be able to make those changes themselves,” Ami Cook, WVU Extension Service agent in Clay County, said.

Just one year into the project, the Be Healthy leadership team is already starting to see their hard work pay off. Since the project’s launch, the team has been working to engage and support key community members and groups.

This spring, 18 organizations across Clay and McDowell counties were selected to receive funding for programming or projects that improve access to healthy foods and physical activity. This approach has allowed the Be Healthy team to reach more than 8,000 residents, establish a deeper connection with the communities and create sustainable change.

“The first year of the Be Healthy project has exceeded the team’s expectations,” Kerry Gabbert, project coordinator for Be Wild, Be Wonderful, Be Healthy, said. “A variety of organizations and individuals in the two counties have provided helpful feedback, expertise and support for the project, and we look forward to expanding our work in the coming year.”

With the help of their project partners, the Be Healthy team has created more opportunities for the residents of Clay and McDowell counties to be physically active and access a wider variety of healthy food choices.

Through those partnerships, the team funded projects that built community-accessible walking trails, increased cold and freezer storage for fresh produce at community food pantries, established a county-wide youth soccer league, incorporated healthier foods into youth backpack programs and much more.

“We’ve discussed building a garden for children for years,” Marsha Timpson of Big Creek People in Action said. “When this opportunity came along, it was the catapult that pushed us into doing something about it.”

As the project moves into year two, the Be Healthy team’s efforts will continue to focus on increasing access to physical activity and healthy food options but with a greater emphasis on policy and system changes. Community organizations will again have the opportunity to submit proposals for funding through contractual partnerships with the project team. That process will begin on October 15.

To keep up with the Be Wild, Be Wonderful, Be Healthy project, follow @behealthywv on Facebook and Instagram. The project team encourages everyone to use #BeHealthyWV to interact and connect with others involved in the project on social media.