HEAL SPotlight: Lawrenceville, Virginia
Last year, the Town of Lawrenceville, Virginia achieved the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Cities and Towns Campaign Silver level recognition for passing two new policy goals since the Town adopted its Resolution in 2015. HEAL recognized Lawrenceville’s efforts to educate community members about the importance of eating healthy and staying active and to improve accessibility and visibility of the Lawrenceville Farmers Market. These policy achievements were supported by the Town’s commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of its residents and community members. “All this goes back to the Town Council adopting the HEAL resolution to improve the health of our community…. The Town adopted the resolution to actively and affirmatively do something for our health,” says Mayor Herrington, a leading advocate for the Town’s HEAL initiative.
The HEAL Campaign is spearheaded by the Town Council and supported by the Brunswick Health Ambassadors (BHA), a nonprofit group that was incorporated in the Commonwealth in July 2016. The BHA consists of Lawrenceville residents and community members that oversee community health initiatives throughout Brunswick County, Virginia. Since 2016, the BHA and community partners have been instrumental in helping Lawrenceville adopt and implement the policy goals outlined in the Town’s HEAL resolution. Health education has been a significant aspect of the BHA’s work, as seen through the successful launch of two Health Summits which provided information and resources on the health of Brunswick County residents. This Health Summit was also a platform for information and idea sharing, which later sparked interest to start a student garden and fresh food market at Brunswick High School. This is an opportunity to teach students how food is grown, produced, and processed—empowering them to make healthier food choices. Explaining how important these programs are, Mayor Herrington commented, “people have to understand that chocolate milk doesn’t come from chocolate cows!”
The Town faces significant barriers in its mission to improve access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food options. Many residents have limited access to healthy options; most of the Town is considered a “food desert*” according to data from the USDA Food Access Research Atlas (2015). The Town is working to address these barriers by increasing residents' access to, and awareness of, the Lawrenceville Farmers Market. Last year, the Town's market was relocated to a more convenient location which has helped increase sales and customer participation. The Town has also increased market hours and has implemented a farmer’s market incentive program to increase the purchasing power of customers with lower-incomes.
Finding creative ways to encourage residents to be physically active is also a priority for the town. Brunswick was recently awarded a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to launch their Million Mile Challenge where residents and community members around the County sign-up to collectively walk one million miles. “It’s quite a challenge… but we’re actively involved and having fun. People are excited about the opportunity. People are moving!” exclaimed Mayor Herrington. The new initiative is supported by the Town Council, BHA, Hampton University Men’s Health Initiative, Rotary Club, Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center, Lawrenceville Police Department, and various local organizations and community groups. Through this network, the Town is incentivizing the community to participate in the Challenge by providing them pedometers to help track their progress. The Town is also sponsoring events and walking clubs to increase participation.
Lawrenceville is currently working on expanding their health and wellness strategies by incorporating the Town’s HEAL Resolution in the Comprehensive Plan. Changes to the Plan highlight Lawrenceville’s long-term commitment to wellness and community health.
*The USDA defines "food deserts" as “areas in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly such an area composed of predominantly lower-income neighborhoods and communities.” Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2012, 110th Cong, 2nd Sess, HR 6124, Title VII. Available at:http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-110hr6124eh/pdf/BILLS-110hr6124eh.pdf.