Communities throughout Central Louisiana are implementing evidence-based, community-driven solutions that are attempting to make it easier for their residents to stay healthy. They’re using funds from The Rapides Foundation’s Healthy Behaviors Program Grant for projects designed to prevent and reduce the obesity rates and prevent and control tobacco use.
Grant projects are located throughout the Foundation’s nine-parish service area and include farmers markets, community gardens, walking trails and healthy food preparation demonstrations and tastings, to name a few. The projects are designed to change people’s behaviors so that they lead healthier lifestyles and adopt healthy habits that carry over to the next generations.
Healthy Behaviors Program Grants are three-year grants of up to $225,000. Some communities are using the funds to make improvements on previous Healthy Behaviors Program Grants from the Foundation.
Today, there are 10 active, multi-year Healthy Behaviors Program Grants totaling $1.4 million. The grant proposal submission process is currently closed.
“The goal is to support nonprofit organizations and government entities to develop, implement, and enhance comprehensive community-based wellness and prevention projects focusing on evidence-based nutrition and physical activity and tobacco prevention and control strategies,” said Joe Rosier, President and CEO of The Rapides Foundation. “Ensuring opportunities for residents to make healthy choices is a key component of our Healthy Behaviors initiatives. The Foundation welcomes and encourages partners and organizations to come together to influence health.”
The idea is to make healthy behaviors the norm, not the exception.
Ben D. Johnson Educational Center Healthy Food Project
The Ben D. Johnson Educational Center in Natchitoches uses its $225,000 three-year grant to improve healthy eating opportunities for residents in the low-income community of West Natchitoches. Grant-funded projects located at the center include a community garden, development of a retail space to sell healthy food at an affordable price, implementation of a community advisory council, a summer feeding program and free classes to teach residents gardening, nutrition and healthy eating skills.
West Natchitoches is historically a “food desert,” where residents live more than a mile from the nearest grocery store and many of the residents lack transportation, Executive Director JoAnna Cooper said. The goal is to bring healthy food to the neighborhood, increasing access and availability.
With the Foundation’s grant funding, the BDJ Center’s goal to increase access to healthy foods included expanding the existing Legacy Café to include a retail grocery space called the Legacy Corner Store. This corner store is stocked with healthy foods like fresh and frozen products, beverages and staple food items. The Legacy Corner Store also accepts SNAP EBT cards and has received additional funds from donors to subsidize special “buy one, get one free” deals on healthy items such as low-fat milk, produce and healthy snacks.
As part of its grant activities, the center offers cooking demonstrations and tastings, oftentimes featuring produce grown in the Legacy Garden. These demonstrations show residents new and healthy ways to prepare food and in many cases, expose residents to vegetables or fruits they’ve never eaten.
“We had a canning event where we were teaching people how to pickle okra and peppers. We took them step by step, showed them how to do it and then gave them jars of okra and peppers to take home and do it themselves,” Cooper said. On another occasion, residents were taught healthy ways to prepare sweet potatoes, including baked instead of fried sweet potato fries. A young mother in the audience was shown how she could save money by making baby food with sweet potatoes.
The BDJ Center has used equipment and supplies purchased through the grant to expand their capacity to offer programs funded by government and other grants such as a summer feeding program for youth. The 2021 summer program served 2,481 free meals to young people in the area over a six-week period, making meals meeting USDA guidelines that are freshly prepared, sometimes using food grown in the Legacy Garden.
“I was just thinking about what this grant has meant to this community, and the gratitude I feel personally is a bit overwhelming. The grant funding is making a difference in this community to help people eat healthier, and we are grateful for it.”
City of Winnfield PARC Project
The City of Winnfield uses its $150,000 three-year grant for the Providing Active Recreation to Community (PARC) Project, which is designed to decrease the obesity rate and increase healthy lifestyles for residents of Winnfield.
PARC Project grant funds are being used to enhance and improve amenities at Grove Street and Henderson Holden parks, providing residents with a vast variety of opportunities for physical activity. This includes paving and resurfacing walking tracks, adding fitness equipment, implementing community exercise programming and providing nutrition education for residents.
“The goal is to give residents the opportunities needed to improve their quality of life through family centered resources in safe and positive environments,” said Shannan L. Chevallier, LSU AgCenter Assistant Extension Nutrition Agent and Chairman of the City of Winnfield Parks and Recreation Board. “Research has shown that physical activity increases an individual’s overall energy expenditure. It is important to create a regimen consisting of a variety of exercises, from muscle strengthening, to brisk walks.”
The primary goal of the PARC Project is to create healthier communities by making healthier living easier where people work, live, learn, and play. Implementing walking tracks with adult fitness equipment, will improve the overall health of Winn Parish citizens by improving weight, nutrition, physical activity, tobacco use, and emotional well-being accompanied by overall mental health.
The City of Winnfield plans to offer group fitness opportunities, including walking groups where residents meet weekly and hold each other accountable. “Citizens benefit from this concept as it is free, emphasizes health and wellness while producing accountability, as well as increases relationships, creating new friendships,” Chevallier said.
“Without The Rapides Foundation funding, these projects would not have been possible,” she said. “It costs a lot to do recreation projects. I can’t thank them enough for all their support, not just in the funding, but the support they give monthly from the phone calls. I can send an email or pick up the phone, and they are there to give the support that we need.”
YWCA Girls on the Run Scholarship Expansion
The Young Women’s Christian Association is using its $148,530 three-year grant to expand opportunities for young girls to participate in the Girls on the Run program. Girls on the Run is a physical activity-based positive youth development program that promotes empowerment by teaching life skills through lessons and running. The program is offered to girls in grades 3 through 8. Girls meet twice a week after school for 10 weeks, where they study the curriculum and train for an end-of-semester 5K race.
Unfortunately, many families cannot afford the full $150 registration fee, which covers the cost of the curriculum, supplies, 5K race shirts, snacks and medals for one school semester. The cost is doubled if the girl wants to participate in both the Fall and Spring semesters.
Foundation grant money is used for scholarships that help offset the cost in high-needs schools, and as a result, Girls on the Run has seen an increase in participation, said Marle Chapman, YWCA Program Director.
Before the grant, Girls on the Run had about 88 participants per season. Since the grant, that number jumped to 225 per season.
“Without The Rapides Foundation, there is no way we would be able to reach the amount of girls we reach each season. We wouldn't have the funding,” Chapman said.