By Lauren Kollauf on Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Check out these projects from the 2019 winners

In just a few months, the Healthiest State Initiative will honor a new group of schools, workplaces, individuals and communities  working to improve the physical, social and emotional well-being of Iowans.

But before we jump ahead to 2020, we wanted to check in with our 2019 Healthiest State Award winners who were honored in February. Each received a monetary award to continue their efforts to make the healthy choice the easy choice.

APPLY: 2020 Healthiest State Annual Award applications now open!

If your school, workplace or community is making strides to improve the environment where Iowans live, work and play, apply for a Healthiest State Annual Award and you could win funding to help support future projects. Applications are now open and the submission deadline is Nov. 5 at 5:00 p.m. CST.

Education Award — $5,000

Irving Elementary

Cory Arensdorf, P.E. teacher at Irving Elementary in Waterloo, spent the prize funds on projects that incorporate physical activity into the school day. Arensdorf  worked with the school's play therapist to create a new curriculum "connecting body and mind." 


Students at Irving Elementary in Waterloo participate in an activity where they write their own "fun rules" for P.E. class. Before they write down their rule, they participate in an obstacle course.

"The new curriculum involves SEL (social-emotional learning), physical and nutritional wellness all in one. I am so excited to see this play out," said Arensdorf.

Every teacher will start the school day with a lesson or activity from the new curriculum. Arensdorf is also developing a new curriculum for his own P.E. class that includes SEL so that students are "learning and moving their bodies at the same time."

Irving PE

Some of the funds were used to purchase heart rate monitors for a 5th grade classroom so students can monitor their activity throughout the day and then the teacher can use the data that was collected to create lesson plans.

"Data from the heart rate monitors can be included in math, science or even writing," said Arensdorf. "Instead of hypothetical problems, they get to use fun data that they’re actually tracking from their own bodies."

There are still some funds remaining from the $5,000 prize which Arensdorf plans to combine with another grant to build a sensory room at Irving Elementary. 

Workplace Award ⁠— $1,000 each

POET - Hanlonton (Small)

POET Biorefining in Hanlontown decided to spend their funds on the development of a trail map to encourage employees to engage in physical activity during their work day.

"We identified safe trails and distances for each trail that employees can walk," said Paulette Reuter, quality manager.


The map will be printed in a large format and posted around the plant. The newly identified trails make use of features on and around the plan grounds, including the employee garden and pond. Another sign listing distances for routine employee routes will be posted in the control room and other locations.

Gundersen Palmer Lutheran Hospital and Clinics (Medium)


Gundersen Palmer Lutheran Hospital & Clinics in West Union used the funds to purchase a larger double-sided refrigerator for their popular "Grab & Go Fridge" that serves visitors and employees. 

"This was one of the first initiatives the Wellness Committee took on after receiving staff feedback requesting healthier meal options for their busy days," said Melanie Martin, community relations specialist.

The "Grab & Go Fridge" offers healthy meal and snack options, such as wraps, salads, fruit, yogurt parfaits, cheese and hummus, throughout the day.

Des Moines University (Large)

Des Moines University decided to use their funds to support a community project. DMU has partnered with Central Iowa Shelter & Services (CISS), to purchase supplies, including a weed wacker and other items, for the CISS on-site garden. DMU students and staff will also volunteer at the garden. 

"Their garden is very important to (CISS) so that they may be more self-sustaining with their food pantry and serving meals to the homeless," said Joy Schiller, wellness director at DMU. "We wanted to engage employees and students in a community project that we can work on together."


DMU designed these shirts — in school colors — for students and staff who volunteer at the CISS garden this fall. 

Individual Impact Award — $1,000 

Jessica Wegner


Jes Wegner, of West Union, surveyed a local after-school program for ideas on how to spend her prize funds. The ideas ranged from purchasing new P.E. classroom equipment to building a skate park.

"When we are planning for the next generation, why not ask them to be involved?” said Wegner, a Gundersen Palmer Lutheran Community Health coordinator.

Wegner ultimately decided to use her funds to enhance the S.M.A.R.T. Room at West Union Elementary. Equipment including a balance rope, activity walk floor decals and hurdles were purchased for the new classroom space. The S.M.A.R.T. Room creates a multi-sensory approach to learning and helps students develop physiological and neurological readiness skills. 

Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark Community Award

Each Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark Community Award winner received $5,000 to continue their efforts to help citizens eat well, move more and feel better. Learn more about each winning community below:

Mason City

Learn how Mason City is keeping the momentum going here.


Learn how Algona created a healthier community here.


Learn how Knoxville collaborated for community health here.

2020 Annual Awards

awardsApplications are now open for the 2020 Healthiest State Annual Awards. Applications are due no later than 5:00 p.m. on November 5 and finalists will be announced in January. All finalists will be recognized and winners in each category will be revealed at the Healthiest State Annual Awards reception on February 6, 2020, at Hy-Vee’s Ron Pearson Event Center in West Des Moines.  

The categories for the Healthiest State Initiative Annual Awards include:

  • Workplace
  • Education (including K-12 schools, child care sites and out-of-school programs)
  • Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark Community Award
  • Individual Impact

Each winner will be awarded a monetary prize to contribute towards a health and wellness-related project that benefits their employees, students or fellow citizens. The Healthiest State Annual Awards are sponsored by Hy-Vee, Wellmark and Nemours.