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Children from the YWCA Childcare Center lead a stretch break at the Blue Zones Project site visit on Tuesday. Clinton is one of 11 finalists for the project to improve the overall well-being of communities, including nearby Davenport, Ottumwa and Muscatine.

Natalie Conrad/Clinton Herald
Herald Staff Writer

Blue Zones experts got a taste of what Clinton has to offer during their visit on Tuesday, while numerous community leaders attended to show support for the project.

Representatives from both Healthways and Wellmark came to the area to evaluate whether Clinton will become one of the three to four demonstration sites for the project meant to improve the overall well-being and extend the life expectancy in Iowa communities.

Pledge your support for the Clinton Blue Zones Project

Clinton is one of 11 finalists selected for the project that will apply the learnings and research from Blue Zones, Healthways and Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index to communities. The city is being considered for the first round of the project that will include two more rounds over the next two years, along with nearby communities Davenport, Muscatine and Ottumwa.

Wellness Coordinator at the Mercy Medical Center and Blue Zones Committee Co-chairwoman Andrea Barnett opened the visit by explaining the significance of community support.

“A few months ago I didn’t realize the initiatives already in place in our community,” Barnett said. “It is because of you that we have moved forward in the process. One person cannot do it alone.”

It is almost impossible to name all the supporters of the Clinton Blue Zones Project, according to Barnett. Local healthcare professionals, city and school officials, religious leaders, business and restaurant owners, volunteer coordinators, media representatives and several other community leaders gathered at the event to show their support for the project and tell the experts their role in the project.Ward 3 Councilwoman Bev Hermann said she was surprised by how much support there is in the community.

“I didn’t realize we had so many people involved in health initiatives,” Hermann said. “It’s wonderful.”

The project has garnered support from many departments and organizations, many of which have already made changes or implemented health initiatives.

The Clinton Fire Department has made sure firefighters and paramedics are in good shape, by providing employees with a place to work out, according to Fire Chief Mark Regenwether.

They work out for about an hour a day with their new equipment. In this way, the project will help the Clinton Fire Department do their job, according to Regenwether.

“The Blue Zones Project will help us achieve our mission of safety for the community,” Regenwether said.

The Clinton School District was represented by Superintendent Deb Olson, several school board members and other school officials. Washington Middle School Principal and Head of the school district wellness committee Brian Kenney discussed some of the health initiatives that they already have in place. On Wellness Wednesdays students wear tennis shoes to school and spend part of their lunch break going for a walk and at the elementary schools students go to recess before eating lunch, making them more productive in the classroom.

Find the Clinton Blue Zones Project on Facebook

Blue Zones Director Mary Lawyer addressed the community leaders and expressed her gratitude to the level of interest in Clinton.

“It’s great to see the commitment,” Lawyer said. “Thank you for your passion related to well-being.”

Lawyer gave an overview of the Iowa Blue Zones Project. More than 96,000 Iowans have taken the Blue Zones pledge for their communities. In the first application round, 84 communities indicated an interest in becoming Blue Zones Project demonstration sites. Of these 84 communities, 58 were asked to submit a comprehensive application. In January, 54 communities submitted their applications to continue their journey to become a demonstration site. From those communities 11 finalists were selected: Ames, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Davenport, Mason City, Muscatine, Spencer, Ottumwa, Waterloo and Sioux City.

Visit the Clinton Blue Zones Project website

Blue Zones Community Program Leader Katie McClure explained the certification process for the project and the level of commitment they are looking for from the different sectors of the community. They are looking for communities that have a significant amount of citizen support, with 20 percent of the citizens taking the pledge and completing at least one action.

The city officials must be willing to enforce at least one policy from each section and implement at least two permanent changes. Clinton Mayor Mark Vulich showed his support for the project at the event along with several city councilmen.

“We have a town that is very enthusiastic,” Vulich said. “ Today we will find that Clinton is worthy of becoming a Blue Zones Community.”

At least 25 percent of the schools in the community must become Blue Zones Schools. With the overwhelming amount of support from the Clinton School District and health initiatives already in place, this should not be an issue, according to McClure.  From the top 20 businesses they are looking for 50 percent to become Blue Zones Work Sites. This would require the employers to adopt blue zones principles in the workplace like taking stretch breaks and offering healthy food choices. The principles need to embraced throughout the entire company from the CEO and downward, according to McClure. Representatives from ADM, Mercy Medical Center and several other major employers showed their support for the project at the event.

Lastly, 25 percent of locally owned restaurants and grocery stores must become Blue Zones Restaurants/Grocery Stores. This includes making changes to the menu like putting french fries and healthier choices at the beginning, which has been proven to increase healthy choices, according to McClure. For grocery stores, this could mean having water and fruit near the checkout instead of soda and junk food. Several representatives from Hyvee were present including the store director along with Mike Rastrelli, owner of Rastrelli’s and chairman of the Iowa Restaurant Association.

“This does not mean eliminating unhealthy choices, just making it easier to make healthy decisions,” McClure said.

McClure said the importance of support from the community in all sectors is extremely important, as it is  ultimately the community that will be making all of the decisions.

After describing the project thoroughly, the Blue Zones experts took a break and gave the community a chance to show their readiness to be a demonstration site.

“No community will give you more bang for your buck,” YWCA Director and Co-Chairwoman of the Clinton Blue Zones Committee Lori Freudenberg said.

After Freudenberg described the community’s initial involvement with the project and the implementation of the Community Health Initiative, several community members presented health initiatives that they had started or are currently working on. Executive Director of Gateway Impact Coalition Derek Clark discussed the “Got a minute? Eat with me!” campaign that encourages families to eat together to prevent substance abuse. Laura Anderson from the Sisters of St. Francais presented the community garden project that is being established. Rastrelli talked about health programs for Iowa restaurants and healthy options offered at his restaurant. Clinton Fire Marshal Mike Brown discussed the Clinton Smoke Detector Project. Clinton Half Marathon Race Director Brian Peck talked about the impact of hosting the event and family wellness fest. Chamber of Commerce President Julie Allesee discussed the unique sites that Clinton has to offer and Marsha Smith, executive director at the Clinton Convention and Visitors Bureau, described Clinton’s involvement in the upcoming RAGBRAI.

Hyvee Dietitian and Co-Chairwoman of the Clinton Blue Zones Committee Beth Freehill closed the presentation with an overview of Clinton’s involvement.

“Clinton is ready to be a Blue Zones Community,” Freehill said. “Need we say more?”

The demonstration sites for the first round of the project will be announced May 1. To pledge support for Clinton visit or text BZP to 772937. For more information, check out the Clinton Blue Zones Project Facebook page or the Blue Zones Project website.

Follow Natalie Conrad on Twitter @NatalieConradCH.

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