Left, Clallam County Commissioner Mark Ozias opens the discussion about increasing access to healthy food at a forum facilitated by the Olympic Peninsula Healthy Community Coalition on Wednesday, Aug. 16, at the Guy Cole Center in Sequim where regional leaders across the county met to discuss health objectives for the future. Sequim Gazette photo by Erin Hawkins

Healthier food for a hopeful future

Regional leaders from across Clallam County met recently to discuss community health objectives for the future.

The Olympic Peninsula Healthy Community Coalition (OPHCC) invited policy makers, school board members, health professionals and educators to a food forum at the Guy Cole Center in Sequim on Wednesday, Aug. 16, after a recent community health assessment revealed concerning data about access to healthy food in the county.

In July, Clallam County Health and Human services released the data from the 2017 Community Health Assessment that aimed to identify key health needs and issues through a comprehensive data collection and analysis process.

“We got some really interesting data that came out of it,” Dr. Monica Dixon, OPHCC board president, 2017 health assessment committee member and forum facilitator, said.

“One was that we have 37 percent of 10th-graders feeling hopelessness and 66 percent of youth say that they have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Dixon said the forum was a way to start engaging regional leaders in a discussion of health while data from the survey was still fresh and new.

Mark Ozias, Clallam County commissioner and 2017 health assessment committee member, also said the forum was the first step in developing communication between community leaders to get a sense of where they should start.

“What’s important about today is that there are a lot of policy makers in the room,” he said.

“If we want a healthy community, that requires high level engagement, and the fact that we have those people here today is a really positive step.”

OPHCC invited a panel of four speakers including Katie Rains, executive director of GRuB Olympia; Stacey Larsen, food service director of Port Townsend School District; Karen Obermeyer, health educator at Jefferson County Public Health; and Wally Endicott, executive director of Kids at Hope Northwest to speak at the forum.

By the end of the three-hour session, community leaders developed three main action items to move forward with: bringing GRuB into the county starting in Sequim, spreading Kids at Hope programs across the county through the Clallam Economic Development Corporation and asking the North Olympic Peninsula Development Council (NOPDC) to write a grant that would fund healthier food in schools.

GRuB is an organization based out of Olympia that aims to “inspire positive personal and community change by bringing people together around food and agriculture,” Rains said.

One of the programs it offers is what Rains described as a “Pollination program” that creates youth-centered projects based on GRuB’s model.

Dixon said GRuB’s Pollination program is something that could be implemented into local school districts, starting in Sequim. She said GRuB’s programs must be integrated into school district curriculum as credit in order for its services to be applied.

Kids at Hope Northwest programs offer evidence-based, strategic, cultural frameworks to provide the necessary training and program enhancements to support the success of children. Dixon said the goal with this program would be to increase training throughout the county in Sequim, Port Angeles and Forks.

The third action item involves the NOPDC — an organization that develops, supports and carries out regional plans for economic community development — writing a grant to the USDA by December for seed money so local school districts can move toward healthier cooking.

Dixon said the overall context for the forum was to create, “collective efficacy — where small communities can share resources to build something bigger than themselves,” she said.

“We can’t depend on the feds or the state (to get things done), us in this room have to come up with a solution.”

Ozias said while he doesn’t think the health assessment was the impetus behind the forum, the data from it underscores the importance of this work.

“The Healthy Community Coalition’s basis for existence is we recognize these problems and the data from the health survey underscores the importance of the work and where to target those efforts,” he said.

In the future, Dixon said OPHCC is considering putting together a conference of community leaders in the spring to carry forward this work and build on it.

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