Northwest Arkansas leaders gathered today at a community summit in Rogers to kick off EnergizeNWA, a regional effort to improve access to healthy food and physical activity initiated by Endeavor Foundation.
Mayors, superintendents, regional planners, and executives of non-profits and businesses shared best practices, identified new opportunities, and discussed innovative ways the community can work together post-summit to improve the health of Northwest Arkansans.
“We envision a Northwest Arkansas where healthy, affordable food is available in every neighborhood, workplace and school,” said Anita Scism, Endeavor's president and CEO. “We see a region where bicycling and walking rival driving, and a place where it is easy to eat well and be physically active because our community supports a healthy lifestyle.”
Endeavor Foundation, an organization that works with the Northwest Arkansas Council on aspects of the Greater Northwest Arkansas Development Strategy, announced that it will award $400,000 in grants this year to support community-led programs, policies and infrastructure solutions that promote healthy lifestyles for Northwest Arkansas residents.
In addition, Endeavor is supporting three multi-stakeholder projects it has already identified as regional opportunities. The first project explores the need for a regional “safe routes to school” program. The second focuses on developing a regional plan to improve food access across the region. The third project is producing a regional, interactive map that residents and visitors can use to map their own safe walking and bicycling routes as well as identify places to get healthy and be active.
The day's speakers highlighted some of those recommendations, and helped participants visualize how participating leaders might work together to apply best practices to make a difference in Northwest Arkansas. Speakers included Tracy Fox, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation advisor and president of Food, Nutrition and Policy Consultants; Dr. John Agwunobi, senior vice president and president of health and wellness with Walmart; and Arkansas Surgeon General Joe Thompson.
“Unless we improve the health of our citizens, we are facing a tsunami of medical treatment needs that we simply won’t be able to afford,” said Thompson, the state’s surgeon general. “We are fortunate here in Arkansas that policymakers and many others are willing to work together on effective solutions. Outside-the-box policies and changes in the way we design our communities are critical to making healthy lifestyles accessible. The only way to change behavior and improve health is to make the changes easy and part of everyday life.”
Now, it will be up to those who get involved in EnergizeNWA to go about identifying and then implimenting ways to make Northwest Arkansas healthier.
“We're going to work quickly to assess what we've heard and reflect that back to the community," said Amy Stockton, Endeavor's vice president of programs and community partnerships. "If we learn that people want more trails or joint-use agreements to support after-hours use of recreational facilities, or that it’s important to have healthier drinks in community vending machines, we'll convene the right stakeholders to determine whether that’s possible and how to make it happen.”
Endeavor Foundation and the Northwest Arkansas Council formed a partnership two years ago. Endeavor agreed to lead a community vitality work group that set out to accomplish the community vitality-related objectives and strategic action recommended in the Greater Northwest Arkansas Development Strategy unveiled in January 2011.
The strategy, which was created after input from thousands of Northwest Arkansas residents, is a road map for improving the region's schools, infrastructure, quality of life and economic opportunity. EnergizeNWA was specifically mentioned in the strategy and months of planning led to kicking off and starting the program.