Healthy Jackson County group making a resurgence

A grassroots organization founded in 2011 to prevent childhood obesity and improve the overall health of Jackson County had plenty of people willing to help with the cause.

But it was missing a second key ingredient — funding.

A two-year, federally funded grant of $1.15 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help lower the obesity rate in both Jackson and Lawrence counties, however, has led to the resurgence of the Healthy Jackson County coalition.

It also helps that Molly Marshall, who recently was picked to oversee Jackson County’s portion of that grant, was once chairwoman of Healthy Jackson County.

The grant committee gathered for a third time this past week to discuss challenges and strategies needed to reach its vision and how to engage the community in the process.

Marshall, whose title is Indiana Healthy Community Champion-Jackson County, was in attendance.

She and Joanah Wischmeier, corporate wellness nurse and certified health coach at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour, were the co-chairwomen of the original Healthy Jackson County coalition.

The coalition came about after the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute released the first county health rankings in 2011. Jackson County ranked 74th among the state’s 92 counties in terms of overall health, which includes length and quality of life measures.

Over the next five years, the county’s ranking has hovered around 65th. The health rankings, from a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program, are updated annually.

Healthy Jackson County promoted several fitness activities over the next couple of years after Marshall needed to step down from her leadership position.

A Purdue Extension educator who planned to step into the role moved away, so there was no one to fill the leadership role.

Without any staff support to facilitate and continue the work, it was hard to sustain without a backbone organization providing support, and members were all doing the work as volunteers, Marshall said.

Marshall, who began her work Feb. 1, will be expanding the reach of Healthy Jackson County by increasing opportunities for physical fitness and promoting healthy food choices.

A lot of her work so far as Healthy Community Champion has been making contacts and reaching out to folks who were involved with Healthy Jackson County.

“I’m reaching out to our community partners and trying to get out in the communities, not just Seymour, but Brownstown, Medora and Crothersville,” Marshall said. “I’ve been to Medora and had a great meeting with their after-school program leader trying to capture their idea for Medora.

“I’m thinking about how we have four communities within the county, so we need to decide as a county and as a whole how we are going to meet the needs in each community and what we can do to further this work,” she said.

Healthy Jackson County will be the main vehicle of communication and coordination for the grant and promotion of healthy lifestyles throughout the county.

“We have brand recognition and community support to do this work,” Marshall said. “We feel like with the help of the grant and Purdue Extension, Healthy Jackson County will be the best avenue to sustain the work now and in the future.”

Donna Vandergraff, project manager for the CDC grant, spoke about the importance of finding good leadership.

“A big portion of the grant is invested in people, and one of the things we find is that coalitions across the country struggle with finding a person that can help with leadership,” Vandergraff said.

If you go

What: Healthy Jackson County meeting

When: 10 to 11:30 a.m. March 29

Where: Community Foundation of Jackson County, 107 Community Drive, Seymour

Information: 812-358-6101