The part of my job that I love the most is the opportunity to travel across our great state to see what Iowans are doing to improve the health and well-being of their community. Last week I jumped in the car to join the community of West Union for their kick-off to promote walking.
All the work to plan this event started almost a year ago when a small team from West Union participated in a capacity-building program for community leaders through Luther College Center for Sustainable Communities in partnership with Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness. The workshop provided the spark for them to continue their efforts to make West Union the most walkable, rural community in Iowa. For a town of 2,500 they have done a lot to improve the walkability of their community, including infrastructure and policy changes to supporting programs that encourage walking including one of the largest walking school bus programs in the state.
Jes Wegner, a county health nurse at Gunderson Palmer Community Health, mother of two young girls and passionate community member, has been at the helm of a lot of this work. She’s passionate about her community and finding ways to improve not only her own health but the health of her family and neighbors. One way she’s doing this is by leading the effort of the West Union walking school bus. A walking school bus is as simple as it sounds – a group of kids walking to school with one or more adults. Although the program has been in place for a couple of years, they decided to step it up a notch and find more volunteers to support three different walking routes, five days a week. The five days a week program kicked off with plenty of rain but that didn’t stop any of them from walking with their umbrellas and counting worms along the way! This effort isn’t only great for the kids but also the adults. I personally found it a rewarding way to start my day – a little physical activity combined with chatting it up with young students.
Several communities throughout the state still sound the town sirens at noon and 6 p.m., a case that holds true for West Union. In the spirit of a small community, they used the idea to incorporate this daily reminder into something positive - West Union Whistle Walks. The idea is that at noon and 6 p.m. when the whistle sounds, community members get up and take a walk. To support this initiative, they created three routes, distances ranging from 0.7 miles to 2.9 miles. An excellent way to encourage the community to explore their own community through walking!
Many think this is only about health, but it’s much more than that. It’s about quality of life for our families, neighbors and friends. And it’s about viability and growth of our communities and our great state. A special thanks to the community of West Union for inviting me to be a part of your kick-off. I look forward to the next visit to see what great things you’re doing to help Iowa become the healthiest state in the nation.
To learn more about how you can start a walking school bus in your area visit http://www.walkingschoolbus.org.