Free bicycle use at Itasca Community College and throughout the City of Grand Rapids, healthier vending machine choices, community and youth gardens, and expanded bike and pedestrian trails. These are some of the results of an Active Living for All (ALFA) five-year grant that Get Fit Itasca received from the Center for Prevent at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota.
Molly McCann, the coordinator of Get Fit Itasca, says that the impacts of the funding and programs it helped create will be felt for years.
“The five-year Active Living for All (ALfA) grant from the Center for Prevention ends this December, but it helped us implement programs and events that will have significant impacts on the health and well-being of the people who live here for a long, long time,” she said.
McCann says that the projects and programs have been far reaching and have dealt with ev
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erything from increased physical activity, to healthier eating opportunities to improving health equity. She points to the Grand Rapids Community Bikes share as one of the important local successes they have implemented.
“One of our first big projects with the ALfA grant was a bike share program at Itasca Community College, explained McCann. “We worked with the administration and student services to purchase a fleet of bicycles, a shelter and repair station, as well as an iPad and software to check the bikes out to students. The bikes are heavily used in the fall and spring, especially when the Danish students are here. This project showed us that bike sharing could be a viable active transportation option in our community and, three years later we decided to try it on a community level in cooperation with the city of Grand Rapids.”
“The Community Bike Share first became available in Grand Rapids as a trial run last fall, then rolled out in Mid-May for its first full season. Since then, over 400 riders have used the bikes, putting on almost 2,000 miles,” McCann added. “The growth of the program is much faster than we anticipated and that has led to a positive impact on physical activity and health within the community.”
While the goal of the Grand Rapids Community Bike Share was to provide a reliable means of transportation to all community members, it has also become a mode of transportation and exploration for those who are new or are visiting the community. Bikes are being used for everything from leisure rides, trips to the grocery store, running errands, transportation to meetings and even job interviews.
Some of the other projects Get Fit Itasca has accomplished with local partners through the Center for Prevention’s funding include the Itasca community garden and YMCA youth garden; an Open Streets summer community event; the increase in healthy vending machine options at Itasca Community College; exploration of a Highway 2 east trail project and a partnership with city planners and engineers to develop complete streets plans that have resulted in bike lanes along Fifth Street, a pedestrian island on Eighth Avenue pedestrian island and more than 50 miles of interconnected trails in Grand Rapids. Also a result of the Center for Prevention support has been Get Fit Itasca’s work at engaging the community and key community leaders on the importance of health equity and the need to provide active living and healthy eating opportunities for all residents.
Local partners on the various projects have included University of Minnesota- Extension Master Gardeners, University of Minnesota-Extension SNAP Education, Itasca County Public Health, Itasca Community College, City of Grand Rapids, City of LaPrairie, Grand Rapids Rotary, ISD #318 Schools in Bigfork and Grand Rapids, Itasca County Family YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Second Harvest North Central Food Bank, and its affiliated food shelves.
“We are very pleased with the work completed in Itasca County in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield to make active transportation and healthy eating more accessible in our community,” said McCann. “We would like to extend our appreciation to our Blue Cross and community partners who made the bike shares, bike trails, community agriculture, and healthy vending a reality. We are especially pleased to offer a mode of transportation for those who may not be able to access our community in other manners with the community bike share. We look forward to future partnerships with Blue Cross Blue Shield to further improve on environments that make health easier to achieve for our community.”
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota established the Center for Prevention with proceeds from the successful lawsuit it and the State of Minnesota filed against the tobacco industry. The Center’s mission is to make healthy choices possible for all Minnesotans by supporting efforts that tackle the leading causes of preventable disease—commercial tobacco use, physical inactivity and unhealthy eating—to increase health equity, transform communities, and create a healthier state.
“We are excited to see the success Get Fit Itasca has achieved under this funding initiative,” said Anika Ward, Director of the Center for Prevention. “The work they’ve accomplished through the partnerships they’ve created will support health in Itasca County for generations.”
“Get Fit Itasca is indebted to the Center for Prevention. They gave us the means and the assistance to do many wonderful things for Itasca County residents,” says McCann. “It truly resulted in significant and far-reaching changes that will ultimately benefit everyone living here.”
Get Fit Itasca will continue to operate through the State Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) and has recently received a community innovation grant through Headwaters Foundation for Justice. For more information about Get Fit Itasca and opportunities for healthy living visit www.getfititasca.org.