Despite its small size, West Union has been taking big steps to improve the health and wellness of their community for several years.
The town of 2,400 tucked into Iowa’s northeast corner has made policy and infrastructure changes to promote walkability. The local school district already has a robust walking school bus program. And the city has long worked with Healthy Hometown, powered by Wellmark.
In late 2017, West Union’s efforts to promote healthier lifestyles got a boost from the Iowa Department of Public Health. The town was one of four communities across Iowa who received $18,000 to implement community-wide strategies around the 5-2-1-0 Healthy Choices Count campaign.
One year after receiving the funding, West Union is excited to share the successes they’ve had spreading the 5-2-1-0 message across their community.
“Tootin’ your own horn is a good thing so that other communities can use our ideas too,” said Jes Wegner, community health coordinator with Gundersen Palmer. “Sharing those lessons learned is very beneficial because effectively managing time and funding is huge.”
Here are some of the 5-2-1-0 wins from West Union:
Focus on early child care
Wegner, along with Ashley Christensen from the Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, used the IDPH funding to award mini grants to several early child care centers and after-school programs in the community.
Wegner believes the messaging that was delivered at the early child care centers had the most sustainable impact: “It is really just that simple to start those healthy habits early that will effect your health later on.”
Flexibility and creativity
Wegner and Christensen worked with the centers to ensure policy changes were in place to limit unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks. From there, the child care and after-school programs were given “free rein” to decide how to spend their funds.
“That worked well for us because it wasn’t regulatory for (the centers) and they could be creative,” Wegner said. Some used the funds to purchase play equipment, others planned 5-2-1-0 themed field trips, held new food taste tests and implemented new curriculum.
West Union partnered with many other organizations to make many of their programs possible, including Gundersen Health, the Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness, the Iowa State Extension office, the City of West Union, the Fayette County Fairgrounds, Unionland Feed and Food Market, Iowa Food Hub and early childhood programs in West Union.
“The collaborative relationships that become even closer as we worked together on these projects,” Wegner said. “It’s not just MOUs, its handshakes and showing up to meetings.”
What’s next for West Union?
West Union will receive another round of funding from IDPH in the upcoming fiscal year, in addition to five more towns and one county. “To receive a second round of funding increases sustainability so that the messaging doesn’t get lost,” Wegner said.
While the first grant was focused on early child care and school settings, Wegner said she is excited to use the FY19 funds to engage the entire community of West Union even more through open meal sites (for children 18 and younger) and a community teaching kitchen.
The mobile eight-station teaching kitchen will host classes through the Community Wellness Program and also be available for use by local groups, like 4-H and Scouts. West Union hopes to launch the teaching kitchen in Fall 2018.
West Union by the numbers:
201 children and families impacted in child care
3,330 children and families reached in health care
48 children and families reached in out-of-school programs
598 children and families reached in the community