The wellness coalition will receive $144,450 from the foundation this year, matched by $124,944 from the community, to increase access to physical activity and provide healthier food options and nutrition education. Perry County has the lowest life expectancy in Kentucky.
“Our children are the most valuable resource we have,” said Gerry Roll, executive director of the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, which is serving as fiscal agent for the coalition. “It’s the best investment we can make as a community partner.”
The health coalition will work with local schools to implement physical activity and nutrition-policy changes, collaborate with local farmers’ markets for a strong farm-to-school component, and coordinate with other community agencies to create a lasting and collective impact.
The project also will implement best-practices nutrition and exercise programs in schools, support community gardens, summer feeding programs, and a “Farmacy” program to increase the purchase of healthier produce at farmers’ markets and local grocery stores, among other changes to be coordinated by the agencies in the coalition.
The Appalachian Regional Healthcare hospital in Hazard will be the administrative hub for the coalition, providing leadership and sharing its expertise in promoting community health. “We have already begun these efforts by providing fitness fairs and health screenings to over 20 schools in our service area and reaching a little more than 2,500 middle school and high school age kids this year alone,” said Hazard ARH Community CEO Dan Stone said.
The coalition is among seven Kentucky communities funded by the foundation’s “Investing in Kentucky’s Future” initiative, which is spending $3 million over five years to fund communities working to improve the health of their school-aged children. The other groups are in Breathitt, Clinton, Grant, Jefferson and McLean counties, and in Boyd and Greenup counties. Perry County was in the original announcement and recently completed its detailed plan. It shares with Breathitt and Wolfe counties the state’s lowest life expectancy, 70 years.