MANISTIQUE - The Manistique Strategic Alliance for Health (SAH) Coalition is looking to break the tradition of short-term health initiatives and programs. The coalition, which is a creation of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, has been busily preparing and planning for a permanent, community-wide makeover that includes two key improvements.
The Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program, in conjunction with a Complete Streets initiative and the creation of a farmer's market, have become the central focus in a long list of initiatives being tackled by the coalition. According to Kerry Ott, community coordinator for Manistique, the goal of SAH is to encourage healthy lifestyles in order to prevent things like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
"So much in public health in the past has been program-based. You do the program, the funding runs out and you're gone, and there is no lasting change," explained Ott at a recent meeting of the coalition. "That's obvious when you look at the obesity numbers in this country - that the way we've been doing things for the last 25 years, hasn't worked."
In an effort to change this trend, SAH is looking to make long-term changes within the community. One of their most daunting tasks - bringing SRTS to the area, which will involve a number of surveys. These surveys will target the streets most used by children and eventually suggest ways to make these streets more walkable and safe.
"Safe Routes is for K-8 even though it impacts all of the students and all of the community," said Ott. "We are hoping to do the parent surveys in March, if we get everything lined up. We'll find out how their kids get to school and why, do site audits, and then student surveys."
In order to make the SRTS more efficient, the coalition is tying the program into the Complete Streets initiative. According to Ott, the purpose of Complete Streets is to plan, set designs and institute policies for streets and sidewalks in order to make them more user-friendly for all community members.
"The more we talk about Complete Streets the more support we get in the community and the more we can get people understanding what it is we're talking about and why we want to move in that direction," said Ott. "Ultimately, this year our goal for Complete Streets is to get a resolution through city council...we are looking at some cool stuff that doesn't cost any money and that will make our routes a lot safer."
Aside from physical activity, SAH is also looking to develop a farmer's market to boost awareness about the importance of eating habits and provide access to healthy foods. "Nutrition is our other focus area. Ultimately, by 2013, we want to increase the number of venues in Manistique that offer healthy, nutritious foods," explained Ott. "Our main focus in this area is that farmer's market."
According to Ott, the members of the coalition have formed a specialized group to focus on the creation of the market and have been developing goals to make it a reality. "Some of the goals for farmer's market this year - we need to do a public interest survey, a grower's interest survey, get a resolution passed, and ultimately submit a grant to USDA for funding for the promotion and all of the things that go into developing a Farmer's Market," she added.
As SAH works to establish SRTS and the farmer's market within Manistique, Ott points out they are keeping the goals of the coalition in mind. "Policy, Systems and Environment - we want to change those three things so thatwe leave a lasting legacy of health behind us," she said. "What we want to do is leave an infrastructure, to leave policy, to leave system changes that give people that increased access to physical activity, that it is welcoming and that they want to do it because it's easy, because it's right there and it has a purpose."