Try This! grants target healthy community changes

CHRIS DORST | Gazette photos
Jackson County Health Department employee Wendy Crawford looks out at a walking trail above Cedar Lakes Conference Center Wednesday. Crawford received one of 42 mini-grants awarded by Try This! for community improvement projects, and hopes to map out all of the trails around the county.
The trail behind Cedar Lakes Conference Center is nameless but will be named, measured and mapped by the county project “One Step at a Time,” which received a mini-grant from Try This!, a statewide movement geared toward promoting healthier lifestyles.
CHRIS DORST | Gazette
Signs identifying trees are posted along the trail above the Cedar Lakes Conference Center, one of several trails the county hopes to promote, measure and map to encourage healthier lifestyles.

RIPLEY — The trail begins with a sharp slope that quickly levels into a small clearing banked by trees, many of them marked by small signs meant to inform interested hikers of their scientific names and telltale features.

The trail doesn’t have a name or a marker. There are no signs at Cedar Lakes Conference Center that point to it, and many visitors are unaware of its existence.

Wendy Crawford hopes to change that.

“We want to take every walking trail we have in our community and map them,” she said. “Our goal is to put signage up — how long each trail is and what it consists of, and make a brochure for Jackson County, complete with a map that has each site listed.”

Crawford, the threat preparedness coordinator and administrative assistant for the Jackson County Health Department, said the county has several walking trails, including a nature trail at Gilmore Elementary School, and she wants to encourage people to walk other public spaces, such as cemeteries or public parks. To achieve this, the agency hopes to measure, map and promote the walking trails, a project its partners — Keys4HealthyKids, the city of Ravenswood and WVU Extension Services among them — call “One Step at a Time.”

Crawford applied for and received one of 42 “mini-grants” awarded by Try This!, the newest grassroots effort to create a statewide network of communities dedicated to promoting and improving the health of citizens.

“Our true goal would be to get these places mapped together,” Crawford said. Cedar Lakes recently introduced rental bicycles to the center, and Crawford’s vision would be for a connected, bike-able trail that traverses Jackson County. She even wants to create geo-caching sites to attract “geo-cachers” from other counties and states who have made the GPS-navigable treasure hunting sport a hobby. 

“That’s our vision, but we think our starting place is to take what we have and let people know it exists,” she said.

Kate Long, one of the primary proponents for Try This! and the reporter who wrote “The Shape We’re In,” a Gazette series on obesity and related health issues, said the mini-grants, each worth up to $3,000, were an idea that came up during the planning stages of the Try This! conference, held in June.

“It’s one thing to talk about what could be done, but West Virginians are really creative, and they can make a little bit of funding go a long way,” Long said. “That’s one of the things we hope to do with these grants — to build up a backlog of model projects that you can do that aren’t going to cost an arm and a leg, but will get your community involved.”

More than 350 people from across the state attended the conference, including Lida Shepherd, who also received a grant for “Celebrating Cora,” a project started by Believing All is Possible, a group of teens at Logan County High School. The funding will help to launch the Celebrate Cora Coalition, which will focus on improving the lives of the residents of Cora, one of the county’s most troubled neighborhoods.

“We really want them to be civically engaged and community-minded,” she said. “I think when young people are involved, it really turns heads, so that when we sit down with the Chamber of Commerce, it’s very inspiring — I think it inspires adults to see and say ‘if you want to step out and step up in this way, we want to support you.’ ”

BAPS hopes to start a “Hoops for Hope” basketball tournament and hold an annual block party in Cora, as well as work on improving and involving residents in the local community garden. For LCHS rising sophomore Savannah Workman, 16, the initiative is a chance to reclaim Cora for the future.

“I would like to see the drug problem go down over there, because I have family who lives over there — I have a little nephew there, and I would just like it to be a better and healthier community,” Workman said. “It’s bad over there now, and I just want to see it be better.”

Try This! will dole out more than $80,000 to its grant recipients, thanks to multiple community partners, in an effort to “keep the ball rolling forward,” Long said. Each project has at least three local groups or businesses attached to it to promote teamwork, but Long said one of the biggest successes of the mini-grants has come from allowing community partners to learn more about project funding.

“These communities are building their expertise in getting funding; they’re building their track record,” Long said. “Many of them had never gotten a grant before — that excites me, that there are new people coming into the game.” 

Both Crawford and Shepherd have recently approached other agencies to try to double their money, and both said that although the long-term change they seek is still distant, it’s worth it. 

“It takes time; this is a long game, but I’m so impressed with these young people, because they’re starting young, so by the time they’re through high school they’re going to have a lot of great skills that will serve them well into college and in whatever career the go into,” Shepherd said.

Other projects funded through the Try This! mini-grants include a “natural playground” in Clendenin, a farming cooperative to provide produce for the city’s farmers market in Morgantown, a walking and running club for residents of Mount Hope, and healthy cooking demonstrations for seniors and SNAP recipients in Greenbrier County.

For more information on Try This!, visit www.trythiswv.com.

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com, 304-348-5189 or follow @lydianuzum on Twitter. 

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