Have you ever thought of growing it? We will be offering opportunities to grow food for yourself and your community in Villa Park in the upcoming months. Also, if you think you have a brown thumb – no worries – we have experts who will be providing classes in the community to help you along the way.
We love to share the successes of our partners and community members! The goals, strategies and achievements displayed here help us to learn from each other and inspire us all to continue to make progress toward a healthier community. Please share your success story of a change you made in your workplace, school, church, neighborhood, or other group and you could be featured here!
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By Erica Whelan, Tri-Town YMCA Development Coordinator
Since its inception in 2011 as a public health initiative intended to provide the Villa Park community with health-conscious choices and support, the “Grow Healthy Villa Park Coalition” has made a series of strides toward strengthening the health and wellness of its community. Last year alone, the group’s community leaders invested $21,407 in grant funds to both improve and promote health strategies that are affordable and accessible to all those who visit, live or work in Villa Park.
In the effort to nurture longer, healthier lives, Grow Healthy, Villa Park leaders collaborated to allocate more than $4,000 for an additional water fountain which doubles as a water bottle refill and pet water-feeder station within the community to encourage healthy beverage consumption within an area that encourages physical activity. The coalition also granted $567 to a local agency serving low-income families to purchase and sustain raised garden beds in which to grow local produce to disseminate to families in need of greater food security. Specifically, homegrown tomatoes and green beans were ultimately a great success as well as a popular request among those served by “First Things First,” a program provided through the Outreach House in Lombard, IL which serves Villa Park and Lombard children ages 3 and younger and their families.
The Coalition also hired a grant writer who successfully secured a $10,000 grant to develop a large-scale community garden to facilitate local residents in growing their own healthy produce and sharing best practices in community health through the establishment of an exterior information center. An additional $1,000 was dedicated toward producing library materials to support a container gardening program and subsequent funds in the amount of $1,843 were allotted to deliver a curriculum for educating preschool and elementary-aged children in healthy habits and nutrition.
The group also granted more than $7,500 among seven local feeding programs in order to purchase refrigeration/freezer units in which to store a greater capacity of healthy food options including lean meats, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables for local families in need. Organizations which benefited include Disciples Food Pantry, the Lombard-Villa Park Food Pantry, New Hope Community Church, the Outreach House, the Salvation Army, Schafer Elementary School and York Township.
Beyond dollars invested, the Coalition also funded the promotion of recommended health strategies on the village billboard in conjunction with the website GrowHealthyVillaPark.org and continues to deliver the messages of improved health and hope through its individual supporting organizations, including Catholic Charities, the DuPage County Health Dept., Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, Greater Works Church of God in Christ, Russell Chiropractic, Schools District 45 and 48, St. Paul Lutheran Church, the Village of Villa Park, the Villa Park Library, the Villa Park Parks and Recreation Dept., Willowbrook High School, and Tri-Town YMCA, which was awarded the initial grant and convened the community leaders.
In prior years, the Villa Park Library has funded healthy cooking classes for interested participants and community leaders have displayed “Rethink Your Drink” informational posters in vending machine areas to demonstrate the high caloric and sugar content of soft drinks and juices. A bilingual nutrition and healthy living education program known as “Salsa, Sabor y Salud” has also been offered to area families, more than 100 of which have successfully completed the eight-week program toward learning about the benefits of greater nutrition and physical activity.
By Ann Piccininni
Daily Herald correspondent
There’s a patch of land on Villa Park’s north side that may be thick this summer with leafy vegetable plants, bearing produce destined for residents’ dinner tables.
Plans for a new community garden, to be planted, farmed and harvested by residents, are moving forward, Village Manager Richard Keehner said.
Keehner said a house located on a village-owned quarter-acre parcel recently was demolished, making way for the planting of vegetables under the direction of the Grow Healthy Villa Park Coalition. The village is doing some soil testing to make sure the site is appropriate for a garden.
If the land gets a clean bill of health, he said, this year could mark the garden’s inaugural growing season at that location. An alternate site will be sought if the original site is not usable, he said.
Keehner said the idea is to have a place in the neighborhood where neighbors can grow elements of a healthy diet for themselves.
The garden is one of several programs launched by the coalition, formed in 2011. Coalition members include charities, schools, churches, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and businesses.
Joanne Mitrenga is executive director of the Tri-Towns YMCA.
“I wrote a grant that gave us funding to convene the group,” she said. “We brought the group together.”
Mitrenga said the YMCA of the USA, the national organization that counts the Tri-Towns YMCA as one of its members, forms strategic partnerships to achieve its goals of youth development, healthy living and
“That’s the Y’s mission. These are our areas of focus,” she said.
The YMCA of the USA joined with the Centers for Disease Control to offer grant funding to local organizations for the purpose of promoting healthy lifestyle choices, she said.
Tri-Towns, which serves as the fiscal agent for the Grow Healthy Villa Park Coalition, also has received financial support for the program from other charitable organizations focused on encouraging healthy choices, she said. In the past year, the coalition has invested $21,407 in grant funds in strategies intended to improve health.
The coalition already has awarded a $567 grant to a local agency for the planting of small, raised gardens, Mitrenga said. Part of the yield has benefited “First Things First,” a program aimed at caring for young children through the Outreach House in Lombard.
Starting a community garden plot seemed like a natural way to help provide local residents with good, healthy food, she said.
“Villa Park is the ‘Garden Village,'” Mitrenga said. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if we engaged everybody around the community in a community garden.'”
Rae Rupp-Srch, immediate past president of the Tri-Towns executive board of directors and former Villa Park village president, is chairwoman of the coalition.
“It really is to work with the community, get all phases of the community together to create a healthy lifestyle, not only for kids, but for the adults,” Rupp-Srch said.
A victory in the coalition’s win column thus far, said Rupp-Srch, is the installation of refrigeration units at several area food pantries.
“We managed to provide refrigerators and freezers for some of the food pantries so they can provide healthier selections,” she said.
“This way they can carry low-fat milk and eggs and poultry,” said Mitrenga.
Rupp-Srch said cooking classes emphasizing healthy eating have been hosted by the Villa Park Public Library and the Villa Park Parks and Recreation Department.
“We’ve taught participants the benefits of label-reading to know the ingredients of the different recipes they make,” she said. “The reviews on that from the participants was really quite good.”
More cooking classes led by dietitians are coming up at the library, said Sandra Hill, the library’s executive director. Tentative plans also are in the works for gardening classes. And, she said, the Villa Park Public Library now maintains a “seed library.”
“We have seeds available to people who attend classes. They learn about the seeds and how to harvest the seeds,” Hill said.
So, when their growing season is over, those growers bring the new crop of seeds back to the library for the next season’s gardeners, she said.
The library also is creating “little free libraries” — small collections of donated how-to materials that work like a community book exchange — at gardening sites and recreation sites, she said.
Mitrenga said the library has been offering residents instruction in how to grow container gardens.
“Whatever we can do to promote health in the community, we’re happy to help,” Hill said.
Grow Healthy recently installed a water fountain in Rotary Park, said Keehner, in an effort to accommodate hikers and cyclists who use the nearby Illinois Prairie Path and the Great Western Trail and thereby encourage exercise.
Dog-walkers will find an added incentive to bring their four-legged friends along.
“There’s a little dish at the bottom where the pets can get their supply, too,” said Rupp-Srch.
Rupp-Srch said Villa Park Elementary District 45, Salt Creek School District 48 and DuPage High School District 88 are all part of the coalition.
School cafeterias have made some modifications, she said, since Grow Healthy started its push.
“Their menus have changed, so they’re making healthier choices,” Rupp-Srch said. “We’re trying to make this a coordinated effort.”
By J’aimee Louis, Action for Healthy Kids intern
Posted March 14, 2014
During the 2013-2014 school year, Action for Healthy Kids – with funding from Campbell Soup Foundation – is working directly with three DuPage County high schools to empower students to take charge of improving the health and wellness environments in their schools through Students Taking Charge. The program combines positive youth development concepts, like leadership and skill-building, with school health projects and fosters student action.
Students at both schools decided “Rethink Your Drink” would be a great way to have fun with their peers while educating them at the same time. The demonstrations were conducted by local nursing students and Action for Healthy Kids.
During the demonstration at Willowbrook High School, one student was shocked to find out his favorite drink, a popular soda, has about 17 teaspoons of sugar in every 20 ounce bottle.
“Every time I drink a bottle of (soda) it’s like eating 17 spoons of sugar?” he asked nursing students Katrina Jose and Ashley Hernandez. “That’s terrible!”
Before leaving the classroom, the student and his classmates pledged to rethink their drinks and to try to reduce their unhealthy drink consumption by half over the next month.
The student leaders had a great time educating their peers on healthy snacks and drink options, but were even more thrilled to learn they had the power to educate their teachers and change their way of thinking about being healthy.
The demonstrations were a great start, but the education continues. Students at both schools plan to keep promoting the “ReThink Your Drink” initiative at their schools by displaying healthy posters around campus and encouraging their peers to think twice about what they eat and drink every day.
The DuPage County Health Department, with locations in Wheaton, Lombard, Addison, West Chicago, and Westmont, provide various health services for residents in DuPage County.
In September 2013, the Health Department eliminated the vending machines from our buildings, because health studies continually identify that the sugary drinks sold in vending machines are the number one source of calories in the American diet and contribute to obesity and other diseases.
Also in September, water bottle fillers were installed in all break rooms and kitchenettes for employees. In addition to providing staff access to the upgraded ice/water machines, clients will also have extra access to water by the addition of water spigots and recyclable, disposable cups at the drinking fountains in client areas.
This past spring, the Villa Park Public Library held 3 cooking classes led by the University of Illinois Extension. The class learned about nutrition and healthy cooking. Applying what they learned, class attendees have made changes in their lifestyle to improve their food choices. When asked what changes they have made since coming to the class, attendees commented: “I now check the labels on food for the sodium content and do not buy items that are high in sodium”, “I am eating more grains, beans and fiber rich foods”, “I am buying different fruits and vegetables which I have not bought before”, “I now have a nutrition shake with my after school snack and drink milk with my breakfast”, “I changed the type of oil I cook with and now use much less”. Educating parents about making healthy choices helps them model positive habits for their children.