On Wednesday morning, we met with the West End’s two Change Club Leaders, Dawn Olsen, Monroe County Extension Director and Carmela Heard, a retired teacher and stellar StrongWomen program leader and fitness instructor. We were also joined by Carol Kern, Western Pocono Community Library Director.
The West End differs from many of the other Change Club communities in how close it is to two large metropolitan areas and how rapidly it has grown over the past few decades. The lack of sidewalks, time spent in the car, and the dominance of driving makes it difficult for residents to walk.
Carmela’s enthusiastic StrongWomen participants and several other community members, including two daycare providers and the School Food Service Director, greeted us on Thursday at the Western Pocono Community Library. Together these women formed the West End Change Club. The library was a fitting location for the Change Club’s work. In many ways the library acts at the community center—complete with an indoor walking track in the basement! The community has walked more miles on the track since it was built a few years ago than we had driven during the whole tour.
Also joining us from Penn State Extension were Marilyn Corbin, Nancy Wiker, and Lynda Lueck-Stoner. We reached out to additional stakeholders Town Supervisor, Town Manager, and School Superintendant. These stakeholders are currently working to improve some of the built environment challenges that resulted from the town’s rapid growth. From these stakeholders, the group learned how the town is looking to build and increase the connectivity of trails. Impressed by the positive energy and excitement for change in the room, as he left on Thursday, one of the stakeholders said that the Change Club was the ‘best thing that’s come down the pipeline in a long time.’
In planning meetings, the Change Club was committed to both improving physical activity and nutrition – but in the end, they decided to work primarily on nutrition. The group’s Noble Purpose is to improve the health of the residents by making the healthy food choice the easy choice throughout the west end. They plan to partner with the local grocery store to increase healthy options for consumers eating on-the-go or families buying snacks. They also plan to work with local restaurants to increase the healthy options offered. The group was engaged throughout the planning workshops, there was universal participation, and people volunteered for the tasks as the group developed them.
The walkabout in the West End was particularly large and highlighted some of the built environment challenges that the West End faces. There isn’t a single side walk and high school sandwiched between two state highways. While the morning was beautiful, a little cold and crisp, the whizzing traffic made it understandable why no other pedestrians were out and about.
Another highlight was our Thursday night dinner at the local high school. Over a meal of haddock, brown rice, and steamed vegetables our group heard from School Food Service Director, Bonnie Grammes about changes that she’s been able to make. The schools now serve brown rice, skim milk, and pizza on whole wheat crust.
Instead of a home visit, we visited a local grocery store. The visit highlighted the abundance of refined grains, sodium, and added sugar in most readily available foods. We also highlighted healthy choices throughout the store such as cereals with less added sugar, real whole grains, and produce.
On Friday morning and afternoon, we worked with the Change Club in an intense planning session to develop their road map and vision for the changes they’d like to see. We concluded the Change Club with a walk in the newly acquired West End open space. We were led through a section of the beautiful 250 acres by naturalist Don Miller, who pointed out the diversity of old growth and new growth and the importance of perambulating around your natural area.
The West End Change Club was a great and inspiring group to work with as the last Change Club of the trip. Not only were they dedicated to making change, but they respectful, supportive, and caring toward one another. We can’t wait to see how their group progresses.
Please watch the following short video about the West End Change Club. I hope you enjoy!