Kern County Walking Group Makes Strides in Obesity Prevention
In spite of budget cuts and time constraints, Kern County continues to make strides towards a healthier and safer community because of an unique collaboration between local officials, the public health department and a local walking group. The Greenfield Walking Group started as a small group of Latino mothers hoping to get a little exercise, but now serves as a powerful advisory group that is helping to increase access to healthy foods and safe places to play in their community. An engaged and respectful relationship between local officials and the walking group is credited for the ongoing success in addressing community concerns and creating healthier community design policies throughout Kern County.
- Working together, the Greenfield Walking Group and local officials created a safe place for residents to exercise and gather.
- Local and regional officials now proactively look to The Greenfield Walking Group as a resource before launching new projects.
- Recently, planners working on a regional-blue print for Kern County development solicited the group’s input on regional growth principles for integrating transportation, housing, land use, economic development and environmental protection.
- Relationship building is crucial. The county department of public health was able to open doors, but the group of residents was instrumental in developing relationships with public officials and agencies to create significant, sustainable change.
- Conducting a walkability assessment in partnership with city staff provided both groups the opportunity to communicate what steps had already been taken to improve the walking environment and how each group could do more.
- The unique collaborative has led to a greater understanding of community needs by giving residents a powerful voice and influence in plans and policy.
Resources to Learn More
City of Bakersfield: http://www.ci.bakersfield.ca.us/
California Convergence: http://www.californiaconvergence.org/gallery/story/greenfield-walking-group
The Rest of the Story
Stray Dogs and used hypodermic needles were just a few of the obstacles The Greenfield Walking Group encountered as they tried to walk in Bakersfield’s Stiern Park- so when they were asked to help identify barriers to safe physical activity by Get Moving Kern- a coalition of organizations focused on healthy eating and active living –the group of walkers jumped at the chance.
The Greenfield Walking Group first met in a nutrition class and decided it would be a good idea to keep in touch by setting a routine walking schedule, but the group of Latino moms found it difficult to focus on exercise with gang activity, attempted kidnappings, and drug use prevalent throughout their park.
The group decided the first order of business would be to conduct a walkability study. The women went door to door asking community members to join, and sent requests to representatives from city agencies including police, parks and recreation and animal control inviting them to come along too. Conducting a walkability assessment in partnership with city staff provided both groups the opportunity to communicate what steps had already been taken to improve the walking environment and how each group could do more.
After the walkability assessment was completed, the group broke up into small groups and mapped out where they had encountered barriers to walking and playing with their families. The maps highlighted places with rampant graffiti, where park lights and streetlights had been shot out, and where a speed limit sign had been knocked down. Walkers also pinpointed locations where they encountered a flasher, witnessed an attempted kidnapping, drug use, sexual activity and a drive by shooting.
Armed with the data they had collected, the Greenfield Walking Group sat down with city officials who agreed to find ways to help clean up the park and make it safe for families.
The Chamber of Commerce then agreed to help the Walking Group raise $10,000 from local businesses to help build a walking path through the park. The groups teamed up and recruited 100 volunteers for a grueling workday that started at dawn, and lasted 10 hours in the hot Bakersfield sun. At the end of the day, there was a smooth path for walkers to exercise.
Since the collaboration began, a number of other changes have occurred in Stiern Park including: replacement and fixing of lights, removal of graffiti, new paint on buildings and structures, new shrubs and plants, removal of dangerous materials from playground sand and the installation of new playground equipment and basketball court. In addition, the city installed speed limit signs, crosswalks and sidewalks on adjacent streets to support walkability.
The relationship between local officials and The Greenfield Walking Group has led to a greater recognition of the needs of the community through a unique bottom-up approach to problem-solving in their community. Local and regional officials now proactively look to the group as a resource before launching new projects. Recently, planners working on a regional blueprint for Kern County development solicited the group’s input on a regional vision and growth principles for the integration of transportation, housing, land use, economic development and environmental protection that will inform decision-making and guide growth over the next 50 years.
The Greenfield Walking Group serves as a model of how residents themselves can lead the way in creating healthy communities, working in partnership with local organizations. By giving the members of the Greenfield Walking Group the power to change their community, the city of Bakersfield has created the framework which will support continued action for future generations. The children of the Greenfield Walking Group members recently participated in helping implement a healthy store conversion in neighboring Kings County and continue to help clean up graffiti where it all began- in Stiern Park.