Challenge Grant in the News: Lafayette’s Healthy Living Club unveils new elementary school community garden — and gets a nod from The Advocate!
Click below for full story…
Photo Credit: The Advocate
Recipe Break: Healthy, Green & into the Outdoors presents fresh from the garden goodness! And we scored the secrets behind their community garden hits — carrot salad and lentil soup…
By Tina Dirmann
BCBSLA Foundation staff writer
No one’s saying it’s easy to get a group of teenagers to pass up burgers and fries in favor of homemade carrot salad and lentil soup. But some of us from the BCBSLAF family had a chance to witness first-hand as a group of Shreveport’s youngest, from toddlers to teens, scooped up bowls of the healthy fare during the kick-off event launching Highland’s first Garden Learning Center (made possible by our Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant program, Healthy, Green & into the Outdoors). Teenage chefs (part of the area’s ShreveCorps program) mixed store bought and garden grown veggies to cook a hearty lentil soup — stirring up a large, outdoor pot wafting well-spiced foodie fragrances into the air. While area families gathered round to shred carrots and apples for a slightly sweet side salad.
“It’s so cool,” admitted 10-year-old Kyra Reeves (daughter of Foundation Executive Director Christy Reeves), “how you can just throw in a bunch of stuff from your garden into a big pot and it turns out delicious… Plus, it feeds the whole neighborhood!”
Dare your own family to dig in to these healthy delights! We scored the recipe from HGIO’s Grace Peterson (who is also an extension agent with LSU’s AgCenter). Try them out and let us know if they love them as much as we did!
Winter Garden Lentil Soup
12 c water
2 c lentils
12 carrots, cut into pieces about 1/2 inch thick
6 stalks celery, cut into pieces about 1/2 inch thick
2 c greens (ex: spinach, collards, mustard, Swiss chard), torn into bite-size pieces
Optional add — seasonal mixed garden vegetables (ex: green onions, garlic, turnips)
1 t cumin
1 t ground coriander
1 bay leaf
1 c uncooked pasta, whole grain
2 T butter
1 t seasoned salt (Tony’s, etc)
Put water into a large pot and bring to a boil over high head. Sort lentils into a colander and rinse under water. Add all ingredients (except butter and pasta) to pot of boiling water. Lower heat and cover pot. Let simmer for 35 minutes. Add pasta, simmer 10 more minutes. Add butter. Stir and serve! Serves 12-14 people.
Apple Carrot Salad
4 apples, grated
4 carrots, grated
2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 c raisins
1 c plain yogurt
2 T honey
optional: 1/2 c other fruits/nuts (example: pineapple, mandarine oranges, pecans)
Put all ingredient in medium bowl and mix together. Serve chilled or room temp. Serves 8 people.
Challenge Grant Q&A: Growing LA’s Marianne Cufone explains how an Urban Farming and Food Center will help a city known for its culinary delights overcome its current status as one of the worst food deserts in the country
By Tina Dirmann
staff writer for BCBSLA Foundation
True, New Orleans is indeed famous for its culinary offerings. But astoundingly, this city, so rich in cultural food festivities, is also considered an urban food desert.
How is that possible?
In some stretches of New Orleans, among folks living away from the touristy hustle and bustle of the French Quarter, farm fresh foods and vegetables are simply hard to come by. Grocery stores are sparse. Farmers markets few and far between.
But the food landscape is about to change in a major way, thanks to a sprawling new Urban Farming and Food Center to begin construction in downtown New Orleans, near the city’s iconic Convention Center, later this spring.
“It’s a project that’s critical to the city because it attacks so many of the problems our urban residents grapple with day to day,” said Christy Reeves, executive director for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation. “Ironically, most New Orleanians are within easy reach of a great fried shrimp po boy. But farm fresh apples and broccoli and carrots… Where do you go for that when the nearest full-service grocery store may be a mile or more away? And when faced with that reality, it’s no wonder that New Orleans consistently ranks at the top of the obesity list nationally. The Urban Farming and Food Center will go a long way in changing the food landscape and providing the community with better options.”
And so last year, Growing LA became the winner of a $440,000 grant through the foundation’s Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana program. Growing LA, jointly organized by the New Orleans Food & Farm Network and Recirculating Farms Coalition, raised an additional $1.4 million in private funding for the farm, which project director Marianne Cufone describes as becoming a full-service nutritional community service center. We recently spoke with Marianne, who also serves as executive director for the Recirculating Farms Coalition, a nonprofit, to learn more about what we can expect from the new food center once it opens later this year.
Q: Marianna, New Orleans seems like an odd place to plop down a farm. Why here?
A: New Orleans is one of the worst areas for food deserts in the country. Yes, it’s one of the best cities for food in America, but has the worst access for local residents accessing fresh foods. That really sealed it for me. That dichotomy when it comes to accessing food. Just because the rest of America comes to our city for fabulous cuisine doesn’t mean everyone who lives here has access to the right food.
Challenge Grant Q&A: Dr. David Carmouche discusses the “life long burden” brought by childhood obesity — and how grant dollars are tackling this state-wide crisis
A signature goal of the Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant program is to tackle skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity. The problem is quickly becoming a national crisis, with 36% of Louisiana’s children considered overweight or obese.
“That puts us among the top five worst states in the U.S. for childhood obesity,” said Dr. David Carmouche, Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana. “And we aren’t moving in the right direction. We have been wallowing at the bottom for several years.”
And no one understands more than Dr. Carmouche how the poor eating habits of childhood can translate into the chronic illnesses of adulthood. For 15 years, Carmouche directed the Center for Cadriovascular Disease Prevention and the Vascular Laboratory at the Baton Rouge clinic. And so often, the patients battling heart disease and high blood pressure also reported being “heavy” as children. Below, we talked to Carmouche about the weight problem facing our state’s youngest residents, and what Challenge Grant dollars are doing to make a difference. (more…)
As 2012 comes to a close, and we’re all caught up in giving to those we love, we want to take a moment to review all the wonderful moments of giving that have come to pass this year through our Challenge Grant partners. This year, we’ve witnessed so many selfless acts and seen such hard work poured into our collective goal — making Louisiana a healthier place to live. We’ve seen ground broken for construction of new walking/running trails, we’ve seen new fitness equipment installed on playgrounds, we’ve marked the opening of new farmers markets in “food desert” regions, we’ve held health fairs offering blood pressure and cholesterol screenings… And this is only the beginning. So, before we dive into 2013, let’s take a moment to celebrate the highlights captured since Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana, our $10.2 million grant program supporting new healthy living initiatives across the state, officially kicked off this past fall. And catch a few “holiday health wishes” for 2013 from our Challenge Grant leaders. Thanks to all of you who have been a part of this effort. And here’s to a happier, healthier New Year!
Oct. 2012: BCBSLAF Executive Director Christy Reeves and Board Chairman Dr. Richard Atkins welcomed Grant Challenge winners at our celebration dinner Wednesday night.
Christy Reeves, Executive Director, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation: My holiday health wish for 2013 is that many of our Louisiana citizens seize the opportunity to get involved with Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana projects and take action toward incorporating healthy eating and active living into their lives. My hope is that their involvement with these projects will ignite an epidemic of health throughout our state to stem the rise of obesity and that people will begin to realize the value of their health for themselves and their families.
Melissa Flurry, VP-Regional Innovation (CLEDA), Central Louisiana Local Foods Initiative: For 2013, we and our partners are all hoping and working for happier, healthier citizens who eat lots of locally-grown fruits and vegetables!
Carl Stages, Executive Director, BREC Foundation: Our 2013 Holiday Health Wish is for a healthier lifestyle for our community in 2013 and beyond as we all embrace the new pathway and mobile recreation unit and to making these opportunities a part of our everyday lives!
Joseph F Lockwood, Project Coordinator, West End Health and Wellness Project: My wish for 2013 is that the enthusiasm for our West End gardens program translates into an equal level of enthusiasm for healthy eating and active life styles among the residents of the West End community!
By Tina Dirmann
Staff writer for BCBS of Louisiana Foundation
How appropriate that at this time of year, when we all pause for a moment of giving, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation of Louisiana is officially celebrating 20 years of giving back to the Louisiana community. The foundation officially opened its doors on Dec. 21, 1992, initially operating as The Louisiana Child Caring Foundation, with a limited focus of helping uninsured children gain access to health care. But realizing a child can’t truly flourish without the support of a healthy family, the foundation’s mission grew to include programs supporting not just kids, but the adults who love them, the neighborhoods they live in, the schools they attend, and the state, as a whole, that will likely become their home for life.
Today, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation has provided more than $25 million in charitable giving. And at 20 years old, they aren’t slowing down yet. In fact, the foundation just launched its most aggressive grant campaign to date, Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana (a $10.2 million grant program that drew another $16.8 in matching funds from community organizations — totaling nearly $30 million earmarked for healthy living initiatives throughout the state).
Christy Reeves, BCBSLAF executive director, recently used a quote from Winston Churchill to sum up the sentiment behind the foundation’s 2 decades of work: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” We spoke further to Christy about the foundation’s mission and its positive impact on the lives of millions of Louisiana residents.
Q: So, it’s been 20 years of grants, nutrition education, health screenings, free flu shots, after school programs, disaster relief and so much more… Do you feel the foundation is making a difference in our state?
A: (Christy): I know that the 2,000 people who work for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana change lives, through the work they do and through the people they know. Whether or not I always see the things we do translate out into the exact results we want, we are still making a difference in all the things we do. And I think for me, personally, I couldn’t have a better job.
Q: We’re not just talking about throwing grant money at the state’s various health problems. Your work impacts people on a very personal level, too. Talk about that.
A: Yes, just in some of the programs we sponsor, I know we’ve touched a lot of lives. We provide transportation for cancer patients to get to their doctor appointments, we pay for kids to participate in the Special Olympics, we put on health screenings and provide immunizations and flu shots. And the afterschools programs alone – I don’t know who even comes close to us in touching healthy living initiatives for kids.
Q: One of the foundation’s signature programs has become the Angel Award, which gives grant money to volunteers dedicated to helping children.
A: Yes, it’s a big part of our legacy, creating this network of Angels. We started that program 18 years ago and we’ve awarded over $1.4 million to 143 volunteers whose work positively impacts children. These are people who have dedicated their lives to a cause for kids. We give out 8 Angel Awards annually, granting each winner $20,000 to a charity of their choice. Then we follow up, putting these winners in a room and let them work together. With all of them focused on nothing but the health and well being of children, there’s almost nothing they can’t do.
Q: The foundation has done phenomenal work for children. But at some point, it was decided to widen the focus to help more than just kids. Why was that decision made?
A: Well, at first we were doing a lot of fundraising for kids, mostly to make sure they had health coverage. And we also did a lot of work on anti-bullying efforts, which we are still known for. We still get requests for information on our work in the area of bullying. But we wanted to open up to focus on supporting the health of our entire state, not just children. So we changed the name in 2005 to Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation of Louisiana and expanded our role.
Q: And in that same year, the foundation launched the Smart Bodies program?
A: Yes, partnering with LSU AgCenter, we focus on the prevention of childhood obesity, integrating programs that teach how to build smart bodies into area schools. Today, more than 800 schools across the state use our Smart Bodies program.
Q: So often, insurance companies get a bad wrap with the public. People maybe don’t trust them or see them as the “good guys,” so to speak. I know the foundation is a separate entity from the insurance side of the company, operating independently. But the funding comes from the medical insurance side. Are people usually surprised to see the Blue Cross and Blue Shield name associated with so many charitable works?
A: Sometimes, sure, I think people aren’t used to seeing the health insurer in this role. But I say that the health insurance industry is a very generous entity. And the thing that distances Blue Cross from its competitors, not that they aren’t generous in their own right, but BCBS is so much more so. I mean, probably 200 times as generous. They don’t have foundations that are local, like we are.
Q: And why is that important, to have a charity set up on a local instead of just national level.
A: Because it shows a higher level of commitment to that community. We believe in it so strongly, we have dedicated resources specifically for that community. It speaks volumes about our commitment to give back to Louisiana. We are the only insurance company in the state with its own foundation here.
Q: And how is the foundation celebrating all the years of good works?
A: We had a board meeting. And I had a slice of cake. Here we are, this charitable foundation dedicated to healthy living, and we’re celebrating with cake. Probably not the most appropriate thing to do!
Q: But broccoli and carrots aren’t very celebratory.
A: True, true. And I guess a slice of cake once every 20 years is okay!
Guest Blogger: Challenge Grant supporter and program developer Grace Peterson talks about overcoming the barriers to healthy food access
Grace Peterson, a nutrition agent with the LSU AgCenter, is a key player in the development of Healthy, Green and Into the Outdoors – an obesity prevention project focused on developing better access to healthy foods in some of Shreveport’s most financially challenged neighborhoods. Nearly $600,000 of the $1.4 million project will come from Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana (a state-wide, multi-million dollar grant program launched earlier this year by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation). Below, Grace discusses how many state residents encounter barriers to healthy food access, and how newly funded community gardens will help overcome those barriers…
Kids at Valencia Park show off their gardening skills. The garden is part of the FIT (Food Initiative Task Force)for Kids project.
Healthy Food for All!
By Grace Peterson
We’ve all heard that it’s important to eat our vegetables – but do all Louisiana citizens have access to healthy food? Sadly, no, they do not. A lot of people may not understand how that’s possible – how residents in our state have trouble finding and purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables. Let me explain.
There are actually four major barriers preventing healthy food access. The first is physical – many of our residents live in neighborhoods without a grocery store close by. These neighborhoods are commonly referred to as “food deserts”. The second barrier is financial – many Louisiana residents can’t afford healthy food. Then there are two knowledge barriers – knowing what is a healthy diet and knowing how to prepare healthy food.
Through the Challenge Grant Program, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation is encouraging collaboration among agencies to find solutions to these critical problems. For our part – the Healthy, Green and Into the Outdoors initiative – we’ll be doing things like building community gardens, hosting free garden-based nutrition education classes and providing other active living opportunities. And that’s just the beginning of what we can do by working together.
An earlier initiative we modeled the Healthy, Green and Into the Outdoors program on is called FIT for Kids, developed by the LSU AgCenter in Shreveport, LA. FIT stands for Food Initiative Taskforce, which includes several hands-on programs providing education in gardening, nutrition, and food preparation. We used multi-levels of community outreach, from volunteer training, peer mentoring, and neighborhood involvement. Participants even learned how to take on the system themselves and advocate for healthy food access, using what they now know about the food industry and the barriers that prevent people from getting healthy food.
The FIT for Kids model, developed at the Valencia Park Community Center in collaboration with the City of Shreveport, is also a stellar example of how we can use a neighborhood food hub to incorporate other integrated programs that can further impact communities at many levels. We developed, for example, a children’s after school program, a summer program for middle and high school kids, the Urban Youth Farmer program for older teens, the Veggie of the Month program for both youth and adults, and adult volunteer training. Participants in these programs reported many positive changes in attitudes about healthy food – such as eating and preparing it and even growing their own bountiful gardens. And best of all, they report feeling empowered to make changes, in their own neighborhoods and beyond.
The FIT for Kids model provides the foundation for an important aspect of the Healthy, Green, and Into the Outdoors Obesity Prevention Project funded by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation. Over the next two years, eight Garden Learning Communities will be developed to serve as neighborhood food system hubs, where a comprehensive systems approach will tackle barriers to fruits and vegetable access and active lifestyles.
Education, neighborhood involvement, and community collaboration are a winning combination that can lead to a healthy future for our citizens.
If you would like to learn more about FIT for Kids programs, you can visit our blog: FITforKids
And see the youth giving a tour of their garden at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEbjT2cOc7s
Dr. Grace Peterson is an Associate Extension Agent with the LSU AgCenter in the Northwest Region. You can contact Dr. Peterson at email@example.com.
Challenge For a Healthier Louisiana funds driving a movement toward real change, Reeves says…
By Tina Dirmann
staff writer for BCBS of Louisiana Foundation
Earlier this year, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation launched Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana, a multi-million dollar grant program designed to motivate communities across Louisiana to take on the state’s health crisis. It was a bold move designed to halt the state’s slide to the bottom in national studies on health and fitness.
In Louisiana today, more than 60% of the adult population is considered obese (and 30% of kids are following along). And with skyrocketing obesity comes companion issues, like soaring blood pressure numbers and diabetes rates.
Recently, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge released a state report card, meant to measure the overall health and physical activity of Louisiana’s youth. A series of D’s and F’s filled the report card, for the fifth year in a row.
Determined to find new solutions, BCBSLAF put out a call to arms to city officials and leading non-profits, challenging them to come up with hands-on plans for change, the kind daring enough to actually turn the tide on Louisiana’s dismal health grades. In the end, the foundation and their partner organizations (12 plans involving 500 agencies across the state) pledged $27 million toward making a difference. Pennington Biomedical Research Center, renowned for its studies on health and nutrition, will oversee the implementation and effectiveness of each plan.
We spoke to BCBSLA Foundation Executive Director Christy Reeves, who has been deeply involved in the creation and launch of the movement, about this innovative program, and the master plan to “move the needle,” as she likes to say, on health and fitness across the state.
Q: You use that term a lot, “move the needle,” when it comes to raising health and fitness standards in the state. What do you mean by that?
A: I mean, how do we make a difference. A real, concrete difference. The truth is, Louisiana has terrible health statistics. We usually rank 48th or 49th in terms of our health. Our board of directors got together and said, “How do we change that statistic? How do we move up to 30th and then 25th and then beyond?” How can we actually make an impact and, yes, move the needle.
Q: So the plan was born from a passion to somehow break through to people and really help them change in a way that hasn’t been seen previously?
A: Well, for five years in a row, we’ve seen this report card. And for five years, the major health practitioners in the state get together to discuss change and we get excited about change. And then, that’s it, no movement in our numbers. So, it’s pretty difficult not to work in this field and see we have to do something different. It was disheartening to see our numbers, but at the same time, it motivated us to do something different. And this is going to do it. I believe that.
Q: Why? Why so much confidence in the Challenge initiatives?
A: Because this is not just grant making… This is building a movement.
Q: Explain what you mean by that.
A: We’ve put the right partners together, throughout the state, to target those critical areas we need to change – activities for kids, for communities, access to healthy food, nutrition education. We have 500 organizations working together to make this happen. No one is working in a vacuum. Every program compliments each other. And the overall effect will be a change in attitudes, in individuals, in communities, in the state as a whole.
Q: I know there are participants from all over the state, including New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, LaSalle… And even more applied to be a part of the grant program, right?
A: Yes, we had 49 applicants pledging a total of $110 million. We couldn’t fund them all. But you know, we asked a lot of those we couldn’t help if they still planned on going forward with their programs, without our assistance. And 70% said yes. That’s amazing. I believe there’s enough energy in this project to keep going even beyond us, without us. And that’s what it’s about –starting that ‘it takes a village’ mentality. It has to be an entire community working together or it will never work.
Q: Why do you think you got such a positive response? What is it about this program that excited people?
A: Because people are hungry for this change and we’ve clearly touched a nerve. We’re just the key that started the engine, but we aren’t running the whole car. It takes a lot of pieces working together to make this work. And it’s happening. A lot of people have come together to make this a reality. And that’s why we’ll see the change. That’s why we’ll see that needle move.
Seven miles of paved trails made possible by $1 M in grant funds from Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana
By Tina Dirmann
staff writer for BCBS of Louisiana Foundation
There’s power in a paved road.
For proof, look no further than the small, rural community of Jena, La. Jena — a town of 3,400 people, located in a parish where 68% of residents are considered overweight or obese and 15% are living below the poverty level.
But on a foggy Saturday morning, as mist hovered over a newly paved biking and running/walking trail now cutting through a woodsy patch of town, a handful of Jena residents gathered to make a difference in their community.
It was a simple 5K, held in honor of the now partially constructed Jena Vision Trail. But crossing the finish line first, in less than 29 minutes, was runner Bruce LaCour, who swears that access to a simple running trail saved his life.
“If it wasn’t for a trail like this, I wouldn’t be running,” said LaCour, who, at 51, still winces at the doctor’s report he got a few years ago. “I weighed 240, my cholesterol was high, my blood pressure was high. The doctor told me I wouldn’t be alive much longer if I didn’t make a change.”
Shortly after that, he started walking trails. Then running them.
“In the beginning, I could barely make a quarter mile without getting out of breath,” said LaCour, a Jena native who today lives in Atlanta. He returned to his home town to participate in Saturday’s run. “If people would come out and just start walking the trail, they would prolong their lives. This kind of exercise is the key to a good, healthy life.”
And that’s the kind of change Jena Mayor Murphy McMillin confidently believes will catch on in his community, where a portion of a $1 million grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation’s Challenge Grant project will be used to lay over seven miles of new trails in Jena – and another two miles in surrounding LaSalle Parish. Jena and other parish officials are kicking-in an additional $1 million toward several healthy living initiatives, to be implemented within the next three years.
A ribbon cutting ceremony, held immediately following Saturday’s 5K run/walk, marked the official opening of the first patch of path, which now cuts through Jena Town Park. The path will be expanded in the coming year and will eventually lead past a community garden and public workout stations.
“This is so much more than a paved trail,” said Mayor McMillin, noting the trail’s expansion will eventually tie every neighborhood and all area schools back to the park. “It’s a symbol of things to come in our community. This is just the beginning.”
McMillin called the BCBSLAF funds a “true game changer” for a small town that’s often otherwise overlooked by major grant and charitable funding sources.
“We are the only rural parish, the only small town, to win this grant,” said McMillin.
Last year, the foundation’s Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant program earmarked $10.2 million for healthy eating and active living projects throughout the state. In the following months, 49 applicants sought funding, with each promising to match or surpass every dollar awarded to them.
In August, BCBSLAF Executive Director Christy Reeves revealed the 12 winning project proposals throughout Louisiana, including the Live Lively LaSalle project (which encompasses the town of Jena). In total, $27 million will be spent on local health initiatives, thanks to the Challenge Grant program and the winning grantee partners.
The grant program is expected to impact an estimated 1.7 million adults and kids across the state. Seeing some of that impact in his own back yard clearly impressed Jena town council member Donny Richardson.
“It’s a sign of progress for us,” said Richardson, looking on as LaCour and other top runners of the day cut a bright blue ribbon temporarily strewn across the pathway’s entrance. “It’s bringing such big change to our small town. And we think this will become a place people will want to come to. That people everywhere will want to visit.”