MONTROSE – When Montrose County residents are discussing how to improve their communities, creating better jobs and improving education shouldn't be the only topics of discussion – how to lead healthier lives needs to be part of that picture, too, said LiveWell Montrose Olathe Coordinator Cathy Romaniello.
"Montrose and Olathe are really prime for doing community assessments," she said. "The time is right. There is interest and energy on how to make our communities better communities, and part of that is being healthier communities."
Romaniello is coordinating a community effort, supported by a LiveWell Colorado grant and facilitated by the area's Valley Food Partnership, in hopes of creating a strategic plan that can drive the communities to healthier lifestyles.
Part of that effort recently got under way, as 21 amateur photographers went out into their communities with cameras to look around their own environments, taking pictures of what might support or hinder them from eating healthy and being active.
"Our goal is to make a change in the community – be healthier in life and with our choices," student photographer Taylor Adams said.
This particular part of the LiveWell project is called PhotoVoice.
With this photojournalism approach, Romaniello said, she hopes to get direction.
"We don't know if they will come back with things that are fabulous in our community, or with things that point at issues that need to be addressed," she said. "But in other communities, [the photo project] opened dialogue into what the community wanted to address."
After the images are processed, the photographers, LiveWell staff and key community leaders will get together for an "image to action" meeting. The photographers will explain why they chose to photograph what they did, and among those pictures, 24 will be chosen to be used in the project.
"We want to get out of it some direction for our planning," Romaniello said. "This will help us identify the key areas that we want to look at and narrow the focus within those areas."
PhotoVoice is only one aspect that will be used to eventually create a strategic plan. The LiveWell Montrose Olathe coalition also will go out into the community with surveys, they'll be talking with key agencies and organizations, and taking any other input that comes their way, she said.
That information will then be compiled and the coalition will develop a community strategic plan. That development should start by mid-January 2013, she said. A draft plan will then be submitted to LiveWell Colorado by mid-March, and if successful, LiveWell Montrose Olathe could be awarded three years of funding to implement its plan.
What's made the program successful in other communities is that it focuses on long-term sustainability, rather than throwing money toward short-term solutions, Romaniello said.
"Amazing changes have happened throughout Colorado based on this engagement," she said. "The structure relies on local organizations and support. So, when the funds end, from the very beginning we've figured out how to sustain it."
For example, LiveWell Alamosa has helped evolve a small project into a community and migrant health center that has 13 health care delivery sites and six dental clinics throughout southern Colorado.
In Broomfield, its program helped maximize community resources by aligning city and county functions of health and human care.
Romaniello makes it clear that the LiveWell program is not about dictating how the community and its residents should live, but rather to provide opportunity and break down barriers for residents who do want to live healthier lives.
"It's about mobilizing people around better eating," she said. "Everyone wants to live a healthier life, and what's wonderful about this opportunity is that we hear about what the community wants, and that's the only way it can work. This process is an attempt to engage everyone."
Kati O'Hare at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet @katiohare