In early 2013, after a highly competitive selection process, Oskaloosa was chosen as one of 19 Blue Zones Demonstration Sites in Iowa. Extensive work toward becoming a certified Blue Zones community begins in January 2014.
According to Dawn Collins, Executive Director of the YMCA and a Blue Zones Volunteer, Blue Zones communities work hand-in-hand with experts to develop a blueprint for making permanent environmental, social and policy changes that will nudge people towards healthier behaviors. The Blue Zones Project is one of several state-wide initiatives designed to improve the health of Iowa as we work towards becoming the healthiest state in the nation.
"The work of becoming certified will be spearheaded by six local staff members working hand-in-hand with two volunteer groups as well as the Oskaloosa City Council, Oskaloosa School Board and community leaders during the 18 month process,” Collins said.
Three staff members will be employed by Healthways, the company leading the Blue Zones projects throughout Iowa. Oskaloosa is tasked with filling the remaining three positions through direct employment with local employers, through loaned executive work share arrangements or through funding assistance.
“It’s truly a partnership that the Blue Zones community enters with Healthways,” Collins explained. “In addition to the paid positions, volunteer groups will play a major role in developing and carrying out the initiatives that will lead us down the path of becoming a certified Blue Zones community.”
Collins stressed that it is time to re-affirm commitments with current volunteers as well as to recruit new volunteers. “You can help your community – and boost your personal well-being – by joining a committee to implement the various strategies and activities of the Blue Zones Project. We need volunteers from all walks of life, of all ages and backgrounds who will come together for the benefit of making Oskaloosa a healthier community.”
Becoming a Blue Zones community requires:
· At least 20 percent of citizens to sign the Blue Zones Personal Pledge and complete one action
· At least 25 percent of public schools to become a Blue Zones School
· At least 50 percent of the top 20 community-identified employers to become a Blue Zones Worksite
· At least 25 percent of independently or locally owned restaurants to become a Blue Zones Restaurant
· At least 25 percent of grocery stores to become a Blue Zones Grocery Store
· Completion of the Blue Zones Community Policy Pledge
According to Sherry Vavra, Mahaska Community Recreation Foundation Director and a Blue Zones Volunteer, volunteer groups will play a major role in developing and carrying out the initiatives that will lead Oskaloosa down the path of becoming a certified Blue Zones community.
“We have the Power 9 Team, which provides guidance in developing the community-wide improvement blueprint,” Vavra explained. “They will also serve to help break-down barriers and make connections with key people in the community to facilitate implementation of the blueprint. This volunteer committee is currently set.
“We also have the Leadership Team, which plans and implements strategies or activities to improve well-being. As part of this team, we have Initiative Committees to focus on community policy, school policy, walking school buses, restaurant designation, grocery store designation, worksite designation, purpose workshops, volunteering, engagement and Moais, tasked with building teams of people exploring the community on foot or other healthy activities.”
Vavra and Collins both agree that a lot of work has already been done to form the framework for the Oskaloosa Blue Zones Project, but a lot more will be required.
“We are very encouraged by the commitment of local business and community leaders, as well as our city,” Collins said. “We wouldn’t have been chosen as a Blue Zones Demonstration Site without it.
“Now we need Oskaloosa citizens to come forward and volunteer their time and talents by joining a committee to implement the various strategies and activities of the Blue Zones Project. We hope you will consider joining us in this exciting project that will transform our community by working together for a better life for all to enjoy.”
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer or would like more information about Oskaloosa Blue Zones Volunteer Opportunities, call the United Way of Mahaska County at (641) 673-6043. Residents are also encouraged to visit www.bluezoneproject.com to pledge their support and explore the free resources available.