Neighborhood Health Connection, a community grant program developed by Allina Health, aims to improve the health of communities through social connections, healthy eating and physical activity. Activities must include a series of at least six events, all for the same group of adults or families.
“Research shows when we participate in a healthy activity with people we are connected to, we are more likely to stick with it,” said Ruth Olkon, community health improvement manager at Allina Health. “People with positive relationships, or social connections, are healthier and help make our communities stronger.”
Neighborhood Health Connection Grant participants have consistently reported positive changes in social connections, healthy eating and physical activity. Additionally, follow-up surveys revealed these positive changes continued six months after the end of the grant.
In 2015, Allina Health awarded 59 Neighborhood Health Connection Grants to local nonprofits and government agencies in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Grants ranging from $500–$10,000 were used to help people make – and strengthen – personal connections through healthy activities. A total of 2,789 people participated in those activities.
Two grant activities focused on mental well-being include Bridgeview Balance and Valley Friendship Club.
Bridgeview Balance – Lee Carlson Center
Social connections, healthy eating and physical activity are especially important for people who have been diagnosed with a serious mental health condition. Through its Neighborhood Health Connection Grant, Lee Carlson Center for Mental Health & Well-being was able to fund Bridgeview Balance, a series of healthy cooking classes; yoga and breathing sessions; dance classes; and field trips to farmers markets, grocery stores and restaurants.
“It was fun to watch new friendship circles evolve as our members participated in these classes,” said Patty Halvorson, the activity’s organizer. “Participants particularly loved the physical and meditative benefits of yoga and dance, which, because of a lack of dollars and transportation, most of our members would be unable to participate in if they weren’t offered at Bridgeview.”
Bridgeview is Anoka County’s only drop-in center for adults living with serious and persistent mental illness. It is free to members and is one of the many mental health programs offered by Lee Carlson Center.
Valley Friendship Club
Socializing, eating health and exercising can be a challenge for young people with disabilities who often experience isolation following formal education and may not have the skill level required to participate in traditional community exercise and cooking classes. Valley Friendship Club, located in Stillwater, combats this by offering educational and social events that allow young adults to connect with peers.
Through its Neighborhood Health Connection Grant, Valley Friendship Club partnered with other local nonprofits to offer healthy eating and active living classes tailored to the needs of young adults with disabilities. Activities included group scavenger hunts, relay races, hiking and snowshoeing events, visits to local farmers markets and cooking classes.
“Allina Health is thrilled and honored to support these sorts of healthy activities and new experiences for Valley Friendship Club,” said Heather Peterson, Allina Health’s director of community engagement for the east Metro area.