By ANDY GOODELL
Oskaloosa put its best foot forward as it met Tuesday with the team that will decide whether it joins the communities designated as Iowa Blue Zones.
Following introductions, the day’s activities began with a presentation focused on the community’s readiness to be a Blue Zones Project Demonstration site. Demonstration sites are being selected throughout Iowa. These sites can then become certified Blue Zones after a several month long period.
In discussing the community’s readiness to become a Blue Zones Project Demonstration Site, Oskaloosa City Manager Michael Schrock Jr. pointed to things like Team Mahaska and the Main Street Iowa office in Oskaloosa. He said the community isn’t afraid to get together on things.
Schrock would also go on to cite the large number of volunteers in the local community.
Cultural activities such as Art on the Square and the Oskaloosa City Band’s concerts, as well as Friday After Five were also highlighted by Schrock.
Gov. Terry Branstad’s Healthiest State initiative was also discussed by Schrock who then pointed to the Mahaska Wellness Coalition as a way to engage people.
Work on goals for the community, both minor and major, are constant, said Schrock. City-wide strategic planning and comprehensive planning are also priorities, he said.
Jay Christensen, CEO of Mahaska Health Partnership, spoke next. Christensen cited statistics pointing to obesity and lack of physical activity on the local level. He said there is a lot that can be done on these issues.
Christensen pointed to things like the Edmundson Aquatic Center and the recreation trail as positives for the community. Christensen also brought up things like the Lacey Recreation Complex and Penn Activities Center as assets to the community.
The Hospice House, new stadium at the Lacey Recreation Complex and Urban Park were also counted among the area’s assets by Christensen. Other areas garnering praise from Christensen were the Farmer’s Market nutrition education effort, Preschool Alliance, the Oskaloosa Public Library’s Reading Garden.
Christensen also talked about projects such as Caldwell Park, the recreational dog park and MHP’s expansion project as positives for the community.
Susan Boxler, president of the Oskaloosa Community School District Board, was also on hand during the readiness presentation. She cited the area’s many civic organizations as a strength. She too pointed to the abundance of volunteerism in the area. Boxler noted the numerous church and otherwise organized volunteer efforts.
Mike Gipple of the Mahaska Wellness Coalition also expressed enthusiasm for the local community saying residents do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. He said the community is “on the rise” and that the area can be successful through the Blue Zones Program.
Tuesday’s site visit also included an overview of the Blue Zones Project and certification process. Mary Lawyer, of the Blue Zones Project Team, explained the origins of the Blue Zones Project and the process being conducted in Iowa. She also discussed the multifaceted nature of the Blue Zone’s Project, which goes beyond physical health initiatives. Lawyer also discussed the potential positive economic impact of the Blue Zones Project, as well as its link to the Healthiest State initiative.
Joel Spoonheim, also of the Blue Zones Project Team, spoke as well. Spoonheim pointed to the idea of making the healthy choice the easy choice. He also focused on the positive impact of having a purpose in life.
Spoonheim also pointed to the need for local leadership for the Blue Zones Project, including committees that meet regularly.
Tuesday’s site visit also included breakout sessions for those involved in city policy, employers, schools and media. The day was rounded out with a Power 9 & Leadership Team Session.
Spoonheim said selections for the demonstration sites will be in January 2013.
To learn more about the Blue Zones Project, visit http://www.bluezonesproject.com.