Engaging healthy communities for successful community development projects

Many community development projects can benefit from promoting their health benefits by engaging and including community health and wellness providers early on in the development of the project.

Community development projects require a great deal of collaboration and cooperation to achieve success. The people leading these efforts are often required to demonstrate the economic value to justify funding of these projects during these financially-strapped times. Funding can be easier to obtain if they can show a broad range of community impact for their projects. Engaging leaders in the local community’s health and wellness sector can provide added value and benefit that could propel your project forward to success.

Your local health and wellness sector, which includes hospitals, physical therapy, exercise centers, life centers, and recreation centers are often in need of areas of recreation to provide services to their clients. Additionally, they often organize and sponsor community events designed to promote healthy communities such as holiday walks and runs and other recreational activities.

If your community development project was planning something, for example, around a parks and recreation or trails system, you should consider engaging your health and wellness sector early and often, possibly even including them on your project development team. These experts can bring to the table the needs of their organizations and provide professional assistance and project support. Their contributions to a community development project can serve as a value-added component that gives you the strategic edge to secure funding and provide a holistic approach to your project.

An example of a successful project that fully adopted this approach to community development occurred in Newaygo County, Mich. this past year. A group of government, business and non-profit leaders came together to develop a grant request to construct a 6.2 mile pathway connecting the Croton and Hardy dams. Early in this process, the group engaged Spectrum Health’s Gerber Memorial Hospital and Tamarac wellness center. Both organizations’ representatives became core committee members and their participation quickly elevated the community impact of the project by providing information, research and technical assistance that enhanced the recreation, health and wellness benefits of the pathway for the community.

Prior to construction, these organizations had already begun planning and preparing for several annual events utilizing the pathway for races and wellness events. Additionally, their involvement led to the engagement of the county’s health department, which will also participate in these events and host their own event in the coming year.

The local Land Use Educator from Michigan State University Extension served on the core committee and played a crucial role in the development of this project and obtaining grant funding. For additional questions on this topic or the project mentioned above, you may contact Ryan Coffey at coffeyry@anr.msu.edu.

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