Allen County made national news this morning with the announcement that it is one of eight winners of the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Prize.
Representatives from the foundation visited the county mid-summer to view recent efforts to make Allen County a healthier place to live. More than 200 applicants vied for the prize which comes with a $25,000 stipend. Perhaps more importantly, the award puts Allen County in league with other prize-winning communities across the nation that can share their secrets to success and access to funding.
Judges noted Allen County’s:
v Commitment to provide an equal opportunity for health care through a new Allen County Regional Hospital, the establishment of the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas and providing services to enroll locals with health insurance. Such initiatives have worked to provide residents of all income levels access to better health. Navigators at Thrive Allen County have worked to enroll county residents with health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. In the last three years, the percentage of uninsured has gone from 21 percent to 10 percent.
v Making the most of available resources by developing 25 miles of walking and biking trails to encourage healthy activities. In addition to the Southwind Trail from Iola to Humboldt, the site of the abandoned Lehigh Cement Plant is now a matrix of trails that abut Elm Creek and Elk’s Lake, thanks to the coordinated efforts of the Kansas Health Foundation and local government, businesses and volunteers. The Happy Tails Dog Park was also a Thrive initiative taken up by the City of Iola and local volunteers.
v Fighting the deprivations of living in a “food desert” by working to bring a new grocery store to Iola. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated Allen County as lacking in adequate nutritional opportunities. A stand-alone grocery will help wipe away the stigma that comes with the “food desert” designation. Thrive Allen County is also working to help save Stub’s Market in Moran and the Mildred Store, formerly known as Charlie Brown’s.
v During summers, the MARV meals and reading bus plies the streets of Allen County providing books and free food for students.
v Iola’s Elm Creek Community Garden, one of the largest community gardens in the state, also has free plots, access to tools and seeds/plants for those without.
v Harnessing the collective power of leaders, partners, and community members to make Allen County the picture of physical, mental and economic well-being. Regular community conversations in area towns have helped develop a county-wide vision as to what would make Allen County a healthier, safer and more prosperous place to live. One result of such conversations is the new Regional Rural Tech Center outside of LaHarpe, spearheaded by LaHarpe’s Ray Maloney and educational leaders.
A SLEW of dignitaries visited today to recognize the award, including U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran and Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based in Princeton, N.J.
Representatives of Thrive Allen County and Allen County Regional Hospital worked together to file the county’s application for the award.