ILLINOIS SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL
Practical PR: Partnering to achieve a ‘Healthy Lombard’
by Jay Wojcik
Jay Wojcik is director of communications for Lombard SD 44 and a regional director for the Illinois chapter of the National School Public Relations Association.
The United States ranks as the fattest nation among those with developed economies. Two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese, according to an analysis done by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (CDC) states that childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. CDC data also shows that the prevalence of obesity among children 6 to 11 increased from 6.5 percent in 1980 to 19.6 percent in 2008. The prevalence of obesity among adolescents 12 to 19 increased from 5 percent to 18.1 percent.
These statistics have raised concerns in schools, communities and medical facilities across the country and have generated hundreds of research documents on the need to turn this trend around. Schools have been a primary focus for nearly a decade and led to the requirement in 2006 that school districts adopt and implement wellness policies.
Many districts have tried to implement their policies on their own. While some, easy to institute, easy to maintain, cost-effective solutions are out there, help from the outside can make a big difference. That is what makes Healthy Lombard, a village-wide initiative formed and organized to address childhood obesity and promote healthy living, unique.
The idea began because of my “bucket list.” I wanted to leave my little corner of the world better than how I found it. I was in the right place at the right time to put this desire in motion. The school board had adopted its wellness policy, and I was armed with an impressive rolodex of “key partners” having been director of communications for District 44 for the past 20 years, as well as a member and officer of the local Kiwanis Club for 15 years, and a part-time employee of the village.
I also knew that Bill Mueller, Lombard village president, had wanted to initiate a program to promote a healthy lifestyle for several years. He wanted to establish an affordable blueprint for Lombard to follow in the war against obesity in order to make a difference in the health of current as well as future generations.
While the board sets the policy, it is up to the district’s administration and staff to implement that policy. So with the approval of James Blanche, superintendent of Lombard Elementary SD 44, and Mueller, as well as fellow Kiwanians, I began sharing my idea to develop a website where residents could find information and a monthly calendar of events that focus on healthy activities, and to increase the availability of activities that students would see as positive and fun and, therefore, want to participate in.
The first public relations step was to share this vision with interested community organizations (Kiwanis, Lions, Rotary, medical facilities, the library, the village, etc.) as well as those that work directly with youth groups (school districts, park districts, the YMCA, etc.) and form a coalition.
After two organizational meetings, the core of interested members grew from five to 15 and Healthy Lombard began to act as an umbrella organization that provides, thanks to the generosity of Best Buy, a website where any resident can find information on activities and documents that address childhood obesity and promote a healthy lifestyle. In addition to the calendar and download sections, the site also highlights photos and videos on its “YouTube” connection, has links to each partner organization, interfaces with Facebook and Twitter, and has an RSS feed. Between eight and 12 visitors currently log in to the site each week.
The next step was to push beyond the “paper/data” ceiling and have the coalition find and support fun positive, physical activities. One of those is Operation Pull Your Own Weight (OPYOW), founded by a local Lombard resident Rick Osborne.
OPYOW uses a height adjustable pull-up bar and leg assisted pull-ups, (pulling and jumping at the same time) that focus individually on a child’s strength development instead of focusing on the negative and embarrassing concept of weight loss. Kids tend to like this positive and non-competitive approach because it was presented to them as an opportunity (you get to do it) rather than an obligation (you have to do it).
A donation of $100 each from the Lombard Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary clubs, and two individual donations of the same amount were sufficient enough to purchase two bars and six sets of adjustable straps. The town’s YMCA agreed to use OPYOW in its after-school program and volunteers from various Healthy Lombard coalition members served as mentors. By the end of the 2009-2010 school term, more than 60 students had successfully learned to do the leg-assisted pull-ups and had shown an improvement in their BMIs as measured by volunteers from the DuPage Medical Center offices in Lombard.
This past summer, another 70-plus students made similar progress when both the Butterfield and Lombard park districts incorporated OPYOW in their activities. Because of these successes, all three organizations are continuing to include OPYOW during the 2010-2011 school term.
Inspired by newspaper articles and local cable coverage about Healthy Lombard, other sport centers have opened their doors to kids and residents, some free of charge. For example, Iron Dragon now allows students with a parental signed release form to work out for free everyday after school from 4-5 p.m. It also hosts a free Ladies’ Night every Wednesday from 6-8 p.m.
Another strong supporter is the Helen Plum Memorial Library. Representatives have placed nutritional and exercise information, videos, and DVDs on display, and they also staffed a table at the local farmers’ market this summer to spread the word about the town’s newest resource.
Considering that Healthy Lombard held its first organizational meeting in October 2009 and 10 months later was a 501c3 public charity, the group is well on its way to making a difference in the lives of Lombard children and adult residents. This village-wide coalition has proven it does take an entire community to support change.
As a true community-built organization, Healthy Lombard is a workable, copy-able, school/community partnership. The group is willing to work with other communities that desire to follow its lead in the war on obesity. For more information or assistance, visit the Healthy Lombard website at http://healthylombard.cloudprofile.com. Click on the “comments” tab and leave a message.
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