Safe neighborhoods important for a healthy community, Columbia residents say

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 | 8:32 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Virginia Law believes making Columbia safer is the first priority when it comes to creating a healthier community. She believes there is more crime, particularly violent crime, since she moved here 30 years ago.

"You know, when people are afraid to leave their homes, they don't get out to exercise, they don't interact with one another and don't participate in community activities," Law said.

She was among about 120 people who attended a public forum Tuesday night to offer their opinions on five strategic issues for a healthy community. The open house was hosted by the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services, which is in the latter stages of a community-strategic planning process called Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships.

The mobilization plan is a five-year program with six phases aimed at improving community health. The health department initiated phase one last January.

"This is a very community-oriented process," health department spokeswoman Andrea Waner said. "We have taken the community's input throughout the entire process. We had surveys and focus groups at the beginning."

Visitors received cards listing the five strategies — safe and healthy neighborhoods, healthy lifestyles, access to health care, disparities and behavioral health — so they could give feedback on each. The cards asked: "In your opinion, what resources are currently available to address the issues, if any?"

The department staff played a video explaining Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships, and guided visitors through five boards that explained each strategy.

People then gathered at tables and chatted while enjoying refreshments.

A Community Themes and Strengths Assessment was completed during phase three of the process and was based on a community health survey and eight focus groups in Boone County. It found that the public views "low crime/safe neighborhoods" as the most important of 15 factors for ensuring a healthy community.

Tricia Woolbright has lived in a lot of communities and moved to Columbia a year ago. She said she heard about the public forum by email from a coworker at the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture.

"These (five strategic issues) are universal problems," Woolbright said. "We are all trying to figure these out."

She thinks economic and social disparities are major issues to address for establishing a healthier community.

"There are neighborhoods who do not have access to healthy food," she said. "That is called the food desert. That is one example of disparities."

She also said Columbia's bus system needs improvement. It took her an hour on the bus to get to Paris Road from the Activity and Recreation Center, she said.

The Community Themes and Strengths Assessment showed that access to healthy foods and public transportation concerns ranked eighth and 12th, respectively, as important factors in a healthy community.

MU student Tim Cunningham thinks family environment is important to reduce the high school dropout rate.

Dropping out of high school ranked third for the greatest impacts on overall community health among youth, according to the assessment.

The department will use public feedback on all the strategic issues to form goals and strategies during the current phase five of the process.

Because Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships is a national model, the department expects to achieve national accreditation and put itself in position for grants, Waner said.

The department will start the action cycle in March and determine a four-year strategy to resolve these issues, she said.

"We will go through it every five years," she said. "When the cycle starts again, we will identify either new issues or keep these and figure out different ways to approach them."

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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