Blog Viewer

A Statewide Movement Improving West Virginia Main Streets

October 24, 2018 | Main Spotlight: A Statewide Movement Improving West Virginia Main Streets | By, Kayla Wright, Director of Try This West Virginia
Point Pleasant Bike Rodeo is not only educating youth on how to make bicycling safer, it's also increasing the utilization of their beautiful Main Street.

Our Health Crisis

Since 2013, Try This West Virginia has sought to improve health environments in local communities as a collaboration of organizations working together to combat the health challenges facing West Virginians.

West Virginia has abysmal statistics in the health and wellness of its citizens, with an increasing number having chronic health issues from diabetes to heart disease. One in five WV fifth graders already have high blood pressure, and one in four had abnormal cholesterol levels, the WV Cardiac Project reports.

According to the West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources, the second leading cause of death is cancer, which is fueled by 26 percent of the population who consume tobacco. West Virginia leads the nation in pregnant mothers who consume tobacco. Currently, this generation of young people is projected to not live as long as their parents due to chronic obesity issues, which are preventable. A legislative study found that in West Virginia, 7 in 10 of our health dollars are spent on diseases that could have been prevented. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that by 2050 the prevalence and cost of these diseases will double if action is not taken immediately. West Virginia needs to take an aggressive effort to curb these issues now.

In fact, the CDC released the 2017 state and territory-specific maps on adult obesity prevalence from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). The prevalence of self-reported obesity among adults in West Virginia has risen from 37.7% in 2016 to 38.1% in 2017. Obviously, our project still has much work to do.

20180614_1104241.jpgDirector Wright is excited to get moving on a volunteer drawn hopscotch. The sidewalks throughout the campus, at the annual conference, were decorated with ways to get physically active, self-care mantras, and the importance of healthy foods.  

Our Purpose

The Try This WV’s overarching purpose is to curb the health crisis here in West Virginia – by training, educating, uniting, and funding teams of everyday leaders to tackle the problems. Through the integration of community members from various outlets/organizations and ordinary community leaders, Try This will provide training, coaching, and assistance for mini-grant teams to bring about a healthy lifestyles project (i.e. walking trails, and community gardens).

Our Main Street Impact

With 261 mini-grants and 11 second stage grants awarded in the past five years, many of those projects have been located on Main Streets across the state. Even if they aren’t located on a Main Street – a growing number are close by and are positively impacting the perceptions, traffic to local businesses, and overall economic development of their local communities. On average, within the first 12 months, every dollar we give our mini-grants are turned into $11 dollars - that’s an ROI of 11:1!

In lots, if not all cases, the work being done by these community teams serve as economic development for our state. For instance, we have two community teams in Lincoln and Kanawha Counties who are second stage grant recipients through Try This WV. They are tackling large projects for a larger economic development impact. Cafe Appalachia in South Charleston is a "a pay what you can” farm to table, lunch buffet, and coffee house that serves the general public and provides job training for a hand up—and not a hand out. The second stage grant program awards between $5,000 and $15,000 per grantee and allows for projects like Cafe Appalachia to blossom. This grant can help us grow our second stage program.

bubbles1__1_.jpgHaving fun and spending time outdoors is a crucial part of the Try This annual conference. 

Our Annual Conference

West Virginia needs more community gardens, walking trails, and farmers markets. But just as much, we need local teams of leaders (not just doctors and public health professionals) to start taking ownership of our community's health over the long-term. Try This WV meets both of those needs. We are also working to bridge those gaps between doctors and local leaders.

In 2017, we held our first Healthcare Professional’s Day, a daylong conference on the Thursday before our annual conference. Around 70 of those healthcare providers stayed for the Try This Conference and helped begin the conversations that need to happen between local leaders and healthcare professionals. We are excited to host the Healthcare Professional’s Day again this year for the 2019 conference on June 6, followed by the annual conference June 7-8. This is an annual 550+ person conference that brings our website to life with over 40 practical, how-to workshops and more than 130 terrific presenters from all over the state. Make sure to visit today – it is a stunning website that offers how-to advice, real-life West Virginia models , and over 100 affordable ways communities can create healthy-community projects and complete long-range healthy lifestyle planning.

Our Next Steps

While we have begun to see real change and action taking place within our state, there is still more to be done. Groups struggle with sustainability and Try This WV is helping them through the process. Culture change is time consuming and a long process, but we are beginning to see people become more engaged within their communities and have this conversation about healthy lifestyles.

Giving Others Hope

“I think the biggest takeaway from the conference is the mantra that was repeated throughout the weekend ‘It’s up to us,” says Emily Eddy, an MPH student in occupational and environmental health sciences. “It is truly up to each and every one of us to initiate positive change in our communities.”

Emily was just one of the many that began to see themselves as a part of the solution. But we needed the data to see if we were truly changing perceptions. Therefore, we partnered with West Virginia University to evaluate the Try This model and these are our preliminary findings:

  • 88% of participants agreed Try This has caused people to collaborate on community projects.
  • 82% believe that Try This has increased their belief that West Virginians can knock themselves off worst health lists.
  • 81% of participants are more hopeful about the possibilities of change.

beckleyrailtrail1.jpgArt used as a vehicle for physical activity (trails with permanent hopscotch designs, art murals featuring physical activity, and art sculptures made from bicycles) was a unique way of promoting art, physical activity, and beautifying city streets at the Beckley Rail Trail.

Our Funders

Lastly, during the past five years, Try This has been funded by: The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, WV Office of Child Nutrition, WV Bureau of Public Health, Unicare Health Plan of WV, The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, The Highmark Foundation, Sisters of St. Joseph, The Appalachian Regional Commission, Generous Promise Grant, The Bernard McDonough Foundation, American Heart Association, WVU Rural Health Initiative, WVU Health Sciences Center, WV Development Office, Flex-E Grant Program, Appalachia Funders Network, plus the Try This conference registration dollars and sponsorship dollars.

We could not make this work happen without the countless volunteer hours from our partners and community members. In fact, at our conference, West Virginia Wesleyan College donated space and facilities for all five of our conferences (2014-2018). An average of 121 conference presenters from more than 40 organizations and institutions donate time and expertise each year.

Try This can accomplish an enormous amount with the dollars that are contributed, and these funds are leveraged to create more positive outcomes for WV communities. If you would like to donate, please visit our fiscal agent’s page.

About the author:

Kayla Wright is the Director of Try This West Virginia. Try This has birthed an award-winning how-to website and Facebook community, three successful policy campaigns, 258 rural community health projects, 13 regional or statewide collaborations (Healthy Bodies, Healthy Spirits; Mindfulness WV; etc.), and trained more than 2,500 citizen leaders to take action in their communities.