Starkville is the healthiest town in Mississippi, and it has the grant to prove it.
The western corner of the Golden Triangle received word Wednesday that years of work on an application for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi”s Healthy Hometown Award had paid off with a first-place finish. The city will receive a $50,000 grant to perpetuate the healthy initiatives that brought the award home.
Linda Southward, former chairwoman of the Healthy Hometown Committee, said the plan is to break the $50,000 into three $5,000 grants, which will serve as seed money for larger local projects to seek matching grants, and 14 $1,000 grants to fund smaller projects. The rest of the money will be used to hire a part-time Healthy Starkville coordinator to oversee the grant distributions and seek matching grants to maximize the effect of the mini-grants.
The mini-grants could be awarded to “anyone who would want to come up with a plan to spread health and wellness around the community,” Southward said, whether schools, churches or individuals.
But the funds would not have even been available except for the Healthy Hometown Committee, which has already devoted long hours to making Starkville a healthier place, partly by attempting to put into words how healthy Starkville is.
“Going through the (application) process improves the effectiveness of communication in dealing with health issues,” said Mayor Parker Wiseman. “The application serves as a checklist for all the tools that have been tried and measured in other places.”
The Healthy Hometown Committee, led by current chair Alyson Karges, represented a cross-section of citizens, all with a vested interest in promoting healthy lifestyles.
The application from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi required five criteria to prove city-wide devotion to lasting health:
Community leadership and involvement: The city board passed one of the state”s first smoke-free ordinances to restrict smoking indoors.
Promotion and Support: Walking trails, bike paths and sidewalks have been provided to present the opportunity for physical activity.
Encouraging Nutrition: Area restaurants participated by adding healthier menu choices and the Farmer”s Market was established.
Healthy Students: The Starkville School District has been recognized nationwide as a leader in healthy initiatives and surpassing the requirements of the Healthy Students Act of 2007.
Wiseman said the Healthy Hometown Award serves both as an affirmation of the good work that”s been done up to this point and an incentive to continue on the path to health. As competition for the award becomes more vigorous, he said the state will benefit by making good health a priority.
Southward seconds that notion.
“To be in the healthiest community in Mississippi says tremendous things about our leadership and the great work by the entire Healthy Starkville Committee. We think success is going to beget success,” she said.
The award was announced Wednesday at the annual Mississippi Municipal League meeting in Biloxi. Representatives from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi will schedule a trip to Starkville in the near future to present the award.
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.