Healthy activity grants help programs on their quest to better health

Earlier this year, 55 organizations and groups received healthy activity grants from Allina Health, including three programs in Columbia Heights, Fridley and New Brighton.

The grants are awarded to promote social connections and healthy behaviors. For this year’s round of grants, Allina received 205 applications from throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin. The grants are part of Neighborhood Health Connection, a community program developed by Allina Health.

First Lutheran

Nathan Roberts, director of children and family ministries at First Lutheran Church in Columbia Heights, began an after school program in 2011 with about eight neighborhood children. The program has since grown to about 30 kids ages 5-17 who spend Tuesday and Thursday afternoons after school at the church. They use the gym, youth room and computer lab, receive help with school work and share a meal.

Before receiving the healthy activity grant, the existing after school program was serving unhealthy meals, such as boiled hot dogs and boxed macaroni and cheese. The grant provides the needed funding for consistent healthier meals, and Parish Nurse Jane Bugbee helps cook and coordinate the meals.

Bugbee said most of the kids who participate in the after school program receive free or reduced price lunch at Columbia Heights Public Schools, and some often go home to little or no dinner. Meals at First Lutheran now consist of ground turkey for tacos, whole wheat pasta, brown rice and homemade spaghetti sauce — to name a few of the menu items. Meals also include fruits and vegetables, and milk or water.

“The kids like coming and learning in the kitchen,” Bugbee said.

The 2014 grant is the church’s third healthy living grant it has received.

Bridgeview Balance

Earlier this month, Bridgeview members participated in activities that centered around artistically exploring and designing the word breathe. They incorporated creativity, color, cooperation, meditations, music, movements, aromatherapy and fun. (Submitted photo)
Earlier this month, Bridgeview members participated in activities that centered around artistically exploring and designing the word breathe. They incorporated creativity, color, cooperation, meditations, music, movements, aromatherapy and fun. (Submitted photo)

Part of the Fridley-based Lee Carlson Center for Mental Health and Well-Being, Bridgeview is a drop-in center for adults living with serious and persistent mental illness. The center offers a setting that promotes social interaction, psychosocial rehabilitation and recovery from mental illness.

The healthy activity grant funds Bridgeview Balance, a weekly healthy living program.

According to the Lee Carlson Center, mental illnesses can alter hormonal balances, sleep cycles and immune system function, while many psychiatric medications have side-effects ranging from weight gain to irregular heart rhythms.

To address these concerns, a wellness collaboration began with Allina Health in 2012, which has grown each year. The idea is to help Bridgeview members adopt healthier lifestyles by better understanding the mind-body connection.

Bridgeview members participate in a Bridgeview Balance art workshop. The healthy living program helps members adopt healthier lifestyles by better understanding the mind-body connection. (Submitted photo)
Bridgeview members participate in a Bridgeview Balance art workshop. The healthy living program helps members adopt healthier lifestyles by better understanding the mind-body connection. (Submitted photo)

Most of the Bridgeview Balance program’s physical activities and educational sessions are led by Allina staff. A retired physician, staff from the Body Mind Circle holistic healing center, and staff from breathethechange.com have also been involved.

Activities have included guided imagery for stress relief, aromatherapy, nutrition counseling, breathing techniques, blood pressure screenings, instructions on medication management and more.

Bridgeview staff hope to continue the Bridgeview Balance program in 2015 and gear activity to a new Healthy Meals for Members program, which will launch next year.

Opportunity Neighborhood

Opportunity Neighborhood promotes safe and supportive affordable housing by providing onsite family support services at affordable housing communities throughout the Twin Cities.

Courtesy Supervisor Danny Ramos prepares a healthy community dinner in September of walking tacos. Ramos previously worked as a chef, so he shares his knowledge and talent when it comes to creating a large quantity of healthy food. (Submitted photo)
Courtesy Supervisor Danny Ramos prepares a healthy community dinner in September of walking tacos. Ramos previously worked as a chef, so he shares his knowledge and talent when it comes to creating a large quantity of healthy food. (Submitted photo)

The healthy activity grant funds community dinners at Garden View Apartments in New Brighton and a housing complex in St. Paul. Perry Lofquist, executive director at Opportunity Neighborhood, said the overall goal of the community dinners is to provide a forum where people can enjoy a free healthy meal, receive information about healthy eating, get to know their neighbors, provide feedback on issues and concerns in the community, and decrease social isolation.

He said the community dinners benefit residents because they build community through resident, staff and management interaction, and the program increases the likelihood residents will take advantage of other programs.

In partnership with the University of Minnesota’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, each two-hour dinner takes place twice a month, which includes hands-on cooking demonstrations and nutritional education sessions.

Pictured are two New Brighton police officers and two Courtesy staff. Officers are often invited to stop by the community dinners to not only grab a bit to eat, but provide an opportunity for residents to interact with officers in a safe and positive setting. (Submitted photo)
Pictured are two New Brighton police officers and two Courtesy staff. Officers are often invited to stop by the community dinners to not only grab a bit to eat, but provide an opportunity for residents to interact with officers in a safe and positive setting. (Submitted photo)

“We continue to hear how thankful the residents are that someone would go out of their way to provide a healthy meal free of charge to anyone that would like to come,” Lofquist said. “We also serve a lot of children that are home alone and probably would not have a meal. Our courtesy staff walk the site at night and get stopped in the parking lot and hallways all the time thanking Opportunity Neighborhood for the meal.

“This is so much more than a free dinner,” he added. “It’s like Thanksgiving twice a month. We’ve even had the New Brighton police stop by and have dinner with us.”

This is the first healthy activity grant Opportunity Neighborhood has received.