AP NEWS

Nonprofit uses preventable medicine to stop chronic diseases

October 30, 2018

BENNINGTON, Vt. (AP) — Health-focused nonprofit RiseVT has opened a location in Bennington County, part of an effort to stop preventable health issues before they become serious problems.

The goal?

“Years from now, (to) have our rates of obesity and diabetes and other chronic diseases go down, as a result of us laying this foundation,” said Billie Lynn Allard, administrative director of nursing for community health for Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

Short term, the focus is on getting RiseVT’s name out in the community.

Andrea Malinowski, new program manager of Bennington County for RiseVT, has taken on that job. Malinowski, a resident of Bennington for about 20 years, is a fitness enthusiast, certified health coach and former owner of Optionz Health & Fitness, a fitness studio in Bennington. She officially started as program manager around Sept. 1, she said.

“Often, it’s not about reinventing the wheel,” she said of her new position.

She’ll work with Bennington and North Bennington to start getting pilot programs in place and reaching out to community partners, eventually reaching out further into the county, she said. “It’s really just bringing awareness of the program,” she said.

RiseVT is based on a European program that’s focused on decreasing childhood obesity. It began in St. Albans, Allard said. The organization is going statewide, and will have a presence in all 14 Vermont counties by the end of 2019, according to the RiseVT website. The program is focused on bringing community members together, to help communities become healthier through increasing movement and healthy eating, Allard said.

In Bennington County, the program is funded partially through Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. The program is also funded through a statewide accountable care organization it’s part of, OneCare Vermont.

RiseVT came to Bennington County due to local interest. Allard, along with Cathy Vogel of the Vermont Department of Health, heard about RiseVT’s success in St. Albans and knew it was a program they wanted to bring to Bennington, Malinowski said in an email. Specific outreach efforts in Bennington County will depend on the community in question, Malinowski said.

“What works in Bennington might not work in Pownal, or Dorset,” she said. “RiseVT, within the communities, is about helping people embrace healthy lifestyles.”

RiseVT aims to expand statewide, she said.

“So, why not here?” she said of Bennington County. “It’s imperative in all our counties. And hopefully other states will follow suit.”

Part of her job is to help support community partners and bring in volunteers, Malinowski said.

Although she’s looking to get more activities on the calendar, Malinowksi said she’s been focusing on connecting with the local nonprofits and seeing how she can support their efforts.

She plans to start free senior and kids fitness activities, including things like snowshoeing in the wintertime.

“It’s all different opportunities for people to just show up and participate, free of charge,” she said. She’s also brainstorming ideas for healthy cooking workshops, as well as offering a six-week health coaching course to employees of Head Start in North Bennington, in collaboration with United Counseling Service.

She’s also worked to award an amplify grant, an up-to-$1,500 award to organizations for specific programs.

When Malinowksi went to meet with The School of Sacred Heart Saint Francis de Sales about RiseVT working with them, she learned their drinking fountains in school weren’t working. So RiseVT approved a grant to help them get a combined water fountain and water bottle fill station, she said.

A steering committee of six people, including Allard and Malinowski, award the grants.

Bennington County in particular has a lot of need for a program like RiseVT, Allard said. 2016 figures show that of Vermont students ages 10 to 17, 11.8 percent are obese, the nation’s eighth-lowest rate in that category. According to 2018 health rankings in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Bennington County ranked 12th out of 14 Vermont counties.

The data also show that 18 percent of Bennington County’s children under at 18 living in poverty, while 39 percent of children live in single-parent households. Overall, the state had 14 percent of children living in poverty and 31 percent of children in single-parent households.

“We have’t a lot of children that live at or below the poverty level, and don’t always have access to healthy food and exercise,” Allard said. “We’re trying to find ways to make that easier for families.”

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Online: https://bit.ly/2OdPC4L

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Information from: Bennington Banner, http://www.benningtonbanner.com

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