Getting area young people thinking and feeling healthier is the focus of a collaboration between two Roanoke Valley entities wanting to better the community.
Hoping to help community health leaders reach youth and influence their eating and activity habits more effectively, officials with the Roanoke Valley Community Health Initiative are partnering with Youth Empowered Solutions to host a free training program for adults who work with youth. Youth Empowered Solutions is a Raleigh-based organization that aims to create positive changes in communities by working with area young people and adults.
The goal of the program is to motivate youth groups to get involved with area health initiatives and bring their ideas to the table on how to promote healthy habits among their peers, according to Aidil Hill, team lead at Youth Empowered Solutions.
“It might be supporting existing events like the (Roanoke Valley Community Health Initiative) “play days” that happen every month; reaching out to local corner and convenience stores to find out how they can get healthier options; working with local farmers to increase farm stands,” Hill said. “We’re really interested in walking alongside and supporting ideas of people who live in the community. We’re happy to do what we can to make their ideas a success.”
The training is open to the public and will run from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at Halifax Regional in building 1, conference room 1, 201 Smith Church Road in Roanoke Rapids.
Local health initiatives aim to impact community health partly by positively influencing young people, according to Roanoke Valley Community Health Initiative member Shameka Lloyd, who also is the spokeswoman for Halifax Regional. She said they hope by changing the habits of youth, the healthy influence will carry to the rest of the family and broader community. But in order to do that, she said, they want to better understand how to engage with youth. She noted this training and dialogue with youth groups will help with that.
“It just makes natural and organic sense to include youth in the strategy and the approach,” she said. “It’s important that with everything that we’re planning to implement, we get the voice of young people and the voice of adults who actually have direct contact with youth so that the way we’re reaching them is the most effective.”
She added youth groups can also learn what the Community Health Initiative’s agenda is through the training and find out how they can play an active role in it.
“We want young people to be champions who are engaged in this movement and this transition we are trying to make (to a healthier community),” she said.
Hill said they want youth groups to focus on a community-wide approach to change instead of an individual one because more change will come from a broader effort.
“The work that (Roanoke Valley) Community Health Initiative is trying to do is changing the fabric of the community and having everyone get on board with it,” she said. “While it’s really great to focus on individuals, it’s really important for us to focus on communities, so the healthiest choice is the easier choice to make. We’re going to talk about the difference between individual strategies and community strategies so youth organizations can see the difference and try to kindle more community-wide strategies with their work.”
She said part of the program will be action planning with youth groups and supporting and guiding their work.
One group hoping to benefit from this workshop is The John 3:16 Center, according to its executive director, Shannon McAllister.
She said her organization, 407 East End Ave. in Littleton, works with children and their families in Halifax, Northampton and Warren counties to meet basic, educational and family developmental needs.
“We already work with youth, but I think it’s always great to learn some better strategies for engaging others,” she said. “We want to better utilize youth in creating programs for healthy eating and active living, in a way that children, teens and their parents will be willing to listen to. I think if children learn to enjoy healthier foods and activities, then it’s something they’re going to request at home as well.”
She said the families she works with already face a number of challenges, noting she doesn’t want their overall health, which they can control, to be another one.
One of the things she said she is most interested in addressing is access to places to be active, access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy programs.
The playground and walking trail at The John 3:16 is the only one in a 10-mile radius, she added, and reaching spaces that encourage health and fitness in rural areas can be difficult, especially when transportation is an issue.
“We want to help families to take advantage of those things that already exist and identify areas where they may be needed,” she said. “Hopefully some of the youth who get involved can help us come up with some creative solutions to that.”
Lloyd said the Roanoke Valley Community Health Initiative’s “Map of Play,” created last year, tries to help people connect with healthy spaces, and they are currently expanding on last year’s edition. She said with continued community support, their efforts can grow.
“We’re really eager and really excited to get everyone involved,” she said.
Those who want to learn more about Roanoke Valley Community Health Initiative can visit GetFitStayFitRV.com or like it on Facebook by searching RV Community Health Initiative.