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March 2012

Thanks to an innovative mini-grant program called Healthy Eating/Active Living (HEAL), many residents of Clackamas County, Oregon know first-hand that they can improve health in their communities.

We Are Public Health 2012-03

This story features the work of the Clackamas County Public Health in Oregon.

We are public health.
We help communities identify and achieve their health goals.

What does it look like when communities set their own health goals and then make them happen? Thanks to an innovative mini-grant program called Healthy Eating/Active Living (HEAL), many residents of Clackamas County, Oregon know first-hand that they can improve health in their communities.

All HEAL projects directly relate to healthy eating and/or active living, but the range of projects shows the creativity possible when communities get involved in their own health. In the latest round of grants, the projects include a “healthy habits” day camp for elementary-age students coordinated by the North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District, “Steps to Health” training for child care providers who want to learn more about healthy snacks and movement activities, and AntFarm, Inc., a community gardening program for youth.

These projects encourage Clackamas County residents to think long-term about their health and the health of others. “People have told me that they see their efforts as having generational significance. They say, ‘I’m doing this walking path for my children and grandchildren,’” reports Kirsten Ingersoll, Community Engagement Coordinator, Clackamas County Public Health (CCPH). Lauren Robertson, a volunteer in the Canby Community Garden Association echoes this thought, “These are all skills which will be passed on from our initial students to their friends and family for a lifetime.”

The HEAL mini-grants grew out of a 2009 community assessment conducted by CCPH called the “Roadmap to Healthy Communities.” As part of this process, CCPH conducted an Internet survey and held town hall meetings to learn the ways county residents wanted to improve their health. From a dozen town hall meetings and more than 1,000 survey responses, two important health goals emerged: better access to locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables and more opportunities for physical activity.

In response, Clackamas County Commissioners created the HEAL mini-grant program. HEAL is designed to empower communities to play a leading role in increasing access to fresh produce or opportunities to exercise. Community groups propose project ideas, and to receive funding, they have to demonstrate high engagement with participants and volunteers. Finally, applicants must raise at least 50% in matching in-kind donations for a mini-grant to be awarded.

CCPH administers the grant process. The health department arranges for staff managers and outside experts to review grant applications. Once the projects get started, CCPH provides technical assistance. During 2010–11, the first year of the program, a total of $88,000 was awarded to 13 projects. For the 2011–12 cycle, $102,482 was awarded to 15 projects.

CCPH tracks information for each grant such as participation numbers, volunteer counts, and in-kind donations received. This information is reported to the Clackamas County Commissioners so that they know of the high level of community engagement these projects generate. HEAL projects are also highly visible in neighborhoods; residents now see gardens or walking paths where before there were none.