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HEAL City Spotlight: Gaithersburg, MD

Updated July 2018

Kids and their families enjoy outdoor activities at the City’s annual SportsFest. SportFest is one of the many free events the City offers to support healthy living opportunities for the entire community. Photo credit: The City of Gaithersburg.

Were proud to be a Platinum Level City. But it’s not like okay and we’re Platinum and we’re done…. this is who we are, we live it every day.

— Michele Potter, Director of Recreation, Parks and Culture

Through the support of dedicated residents, City staff, and elected officials, the City of Gaithersburg is a leading HEAL City that continues to champion healthy eating and active living policies, practices, and programs. After hearing about the HEAL Campaign from past MML Parks & Recreation President, Greg Varda of Greenbelt, Michele Potter, Director of Recreation, Parks and Culture for Gaithersburg, presented the idea to the City Council. In 2013, the Mayor & City Council unanimously passed a decision to join the Campaign by signing a HEAL Resolution outlining Gaithersburg’s policy goals. Since that time, the City has worked across sectors and departments to achieve HEAL policy goals that promote healthier options for residents and community members.

To help implement the City’s healthy eating, active living initiatives, The City established a Wellness Committee that hosts and promotes events and activities for City staff. The group facilitates regular email updates to remind staff of the many activities and resources that are available. “My staff who are on the Wellness Committee will send an email out to remind all City employees that the farmers market is on Thursday and to stop by and purchase their healthy produce,” said Ms. Potter. A local farm also runs a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program that delivers weekly produce boxes to municipal buildings. CSA programs are beneficial to both producers and consumers as community members and staff receive regular and convenient deliveries while farms are guaranteed upfront payment each season. This same farm even provides a flexible CSA program where participants can create their own box by self-selecting produce at the weekly market. As a participant of this program, Ms. Potter commented: “It provides a lot more flexibility. I would encourage people who have CSAs to look at that approach instead of taking time to create boxes.”

The Wellness Committee and Department of Parks, Recreation & Culture also hold activities such as the annual Walking Day walk, Employee Wellness Fair, and complimentary employee fitness and wellness classes. Further, City staff, elected officials, and retirees receive a complementary access to City facilities, such as a fitness center membership, use of the Water Park, indoor aquatic center, miniature golf course, etc.  to encourage employees to stay active. “You see employees coming over [to the gym] before work, during lunch, after work… it’s great!” commented Ms. Potter. These efforts are paying off. Recently, the City’s insurance provider reimbursed the City for their efforts and low insurance claims. The City Manager, Mayor, and Council then decided to issue over $600 back to all City employees. In addition, each employee can receive up to $45 per month in reimbursements for money spent on wellness initiatives. This can include rounds of golf, nutrition, memberships to outside fitness centers, etc.

Throughout this past year, the City has embraced new partnerships to help implement a range of community activities and events. Between January and May of this year, the City worked closely with the Montgomery County Recreation Department to participate in the canine-friendly 100 Mile Challenge. Residents of the County were challenged to walk, jog, or run 100 miles over 100 days. By the end of the challenge, 1,044 participants collectively logged 145,845 miles and 110 dogs ran a total of 6400 miles. The event was promoted to all residents, including City staff, members of the senior center, and members of the youth center. In May, the Parks and Recreation department, hosted the final 100 Mile Challenge event of 2018 — a fitness fair including fitness demonstrations and activities led by instructors.

Since 2007, the City has worked to expand their Bike Master Plan. They are currently working with the National Institute of Standard Technology to construct a bike path along a busy roadway that will connect areas of Germantown to the City of Gaithersburg. The City is also working with the Muddy Branch Alliance, a local environmental nonprofit, to improve connectivity and maintain trails. They have even partnered to host a “Volksmarch” event on October 13. The “Volksmarch,” a noncompetitive walk with a rolling start time, will be unique community activity that caters towards all ages and levels of ability. “It’s free and we’re trying to get people out and highlight that we have fabulous trials in Gaithersburg” said Ms. Potter, one of the organizers of the upcoming Volksmarch.

In 2017, the City of Gaithersburg was awarded Platinum HEAL Recognition, the HEAL Campaign’s highest recognition level. Throughout the past year, the City has taken even further efforts to implement their HEAL policy goals through new partnerships, events, and health and wellness initiatives. “Were proud to be a Platinum Level City,” said Ms. Potter. “But it’s not like okay and we’re Platinum and we’re done… this is who we are, we live it every day.”