Children on Cape Cod, seniors in Worcester, and teens in Fitchburg are enjoying healthier meals, expanded exercise opportunities and new outdoor activities, thanks to programs developed by nonprofits in our Healthy Living Network. We created the network as a way to deepen our relationships with community organizations across Massachusetts and provide more opportunities for them to try new ideas and share best practices. In 2018, we awarded nearly $470,000 in Healthy Living Accelerator grants to 46 of these nonprofits, including those featured below, so they can expand upon innovative solutions to health challenges in their communities.
In addition to financial support, we developed programs and learning opportunities for our Healthy Living Network partners in conjunction with the Social Innovation Forum, a Boston-based nonprofit that creates positive social change by engaging leaders, strengthening organizations and building networks. Together, we offered a series of workshops on topics that included leadership presence, organizational branding, talent management and retention, and evaluation and data analysis. We also piloted a new skills-based service program for Blue Cross employees who volunteered to share their measurement and evaluation expertise with Healthy Living Network partners during a half-day clinic.
Cape Cod YMCA
The Vacation Meals Program serves nutritious breakfast, lunch and snacks to children in need on weekends and during school vacation weeks. They will use our grant to offer more meals in more locations – at schools, libraries, early learning centers and family shelters – and to help fund the purchase of a new food delivery van. Stacie Peugh, CEO of the Cape Cod YMCA, noted that many of the Cape’s year-round residents work in service jobs that dry up during the off-season, when tourists and summer residents leave. “Along with housing, food is such a basic need for all people to thrive and for kids to learn, and far too many Cape households go through periods where they don’t have enough money to put nutritious food on the table,” she said. “The Vacation Meals Program is all about healthy eating and also it takes some of the pressure off family food budgets so they can keep up with other essential bills.”
The Latino Elder Program provides socialization, health screenings, and physical and activities that promote mental well-being for about 150 men and women, 60 and older, at CENTRO’s Worcester offices. Dr. Louise Jeffy, CENTRO’s vice president and chief of programs, said our grant was used to purchase a sound system for Zumba and Salsa dancing and to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to LEP participants. “The group meets Wednesdays and Fridays, with breakfast and lunch served, and it’s a great opportunity to help them eat better and become more active,” she said. Cultural norms – a fondness for fried foods and meals high in sodium and carbohydrates – can be a challenge, she added, so the LEP holds cooking demonstrations to show that healthy foods can be tasty. “And with the Blue Cross grant, we can send them home on Fridays with a good workout and healthy produce they can prepare themselves,” Jeffy added. CENTRO is the largest minority-led, multicultural, multiservice nonprofit in Central Massachusetts. Nearly all staff are multilingual and many share the immigrant experience.
The Healthy Eating and Environmental Sustainability Youth Group, another grant recipient, is the outgrowth of a partnership with Fitchburg Public Schools and Project HealthCare. It brings together 11th and 12th grade teens who are committed to addressing the root causes of obesity and associated chronic diseases in Fitchburg. An estimated 42 percent of Fitchburg’s youth are overweight and obese, a third higher than the statewide average. Last year, with support from Growing Places, the students conducted a school-wide survey on what could be done to encourage healthy eating. Among the top ideas: a hydroponic tower garden, cooking classes for their peers and more teen-friendly, nutritious food options in the cafeteria. Ayn Yeagle, executive director of Growing Places, said she is thrilled by how engaged and passionate the students are. “They’re thinking about how they can advocate for healthy eating, more time spent outdoors, and connections to the natural environment, with just a little guidance and support from our staff,” she said. “They really get the fact that you need to start changing kids’ eating habits when they’re very young. Highlighting this, the youth leaders also want to support the nutrition education of younger students in the district through hands-on gardening education and after-school cooking lessons.”