HEAL-PLAN NH partnership promotes healthier communities

Focusing on how the "built environment" can either facilitate or block access to both physical activity and healthier food, two New Hampshire nonprofits have launched a collaboration aimed at implementing community-generated programs for a healthier state.

Healthy Eating Active Living NH (or HEAL, led by the Foundation for Healthy Communities) and Plan NH are partnering for the first time to work with selected communities that have expressed an interest in providing more options for healthy foods and physical activity.

It's the first collaboration to provide such a spectrum of resources to support healthy and vibrant communities in New Hampshire.

Plan NH has focused its efforts on the built environment to create strong town centers and neighborhoods with positive economic, social and environmental impact, while HEAL has worked to help develop and support community coalitions that promote access to healthy eating and physical activity.

Although the organizations had never worked together before, HEAL and Plan NH share the fundamental belief that the design of the built environment influences people's abilities to make healthy choices, said Terry Johnson, director of HEAL.

According to Johnson, both organizations are committed to providing training and expert support to community leaders and residents that will lead to positive, long-term changes in communities to help people have more options to eat healthier and be more active.

"The collaboration between HEAL and Plan NH is designed to bring a full spectrum of resources and assistance to engage community leaders and residents," said Johnson. "Plan NH has a great history of convening community leaders and residents and helping them to envision the possibilities for their community. Our partnership with Plan NH will help HEAL coalitions identify opportunities, create a plan to leverage them, and ensure healthy eating and active living is woven into the fabric of their communities."

According to Michele Craig, director of program development of Plan NH, "it's all about the people. We help them come together and realize that they can make a difference where they live. We help them identify assets already in the community that they can build from to create a healthier and more vibrant community. We want to leave them with enough tools and knowledge to be self-sufficient, so they don't have to go to the tax base or rely on grants to keep it going over the long run."

HEAL recently announced that it will provide funding, training and other resources to Ashland, Berlin, Laconia and Nashua. Each community will receive approximately $10,000 in grants and over $80,000 of training and technical assistance from HEAL and Plan NH over the two-year grant period.

Under the HEAL Community Grant Program municipal officials are required to take the lead in mobilizing community members to work together – in contrast to traditional community health improvement models led by public health agencies or nonprofits.

HEAL and Plan NH will help communities identify and implement municipal strategies – such as adding bike paths, sidewalks, and farmers markets – to provide more choices for residents to eat healthy and be physically active.

"The collaboration between our two groups to support these community projects is whole new territory," says Robin LeBlanc, executive director of Plan NH. "The joy is where it is going to go."

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