Youth helping to make their community healthier

By Carrie Olson, Extension Educator, Healthy Living Liaison

June 2018

One of the most powerful experiences adults can do with youth is to help youth gain a voice in their environment.  Adult volunteers in the 4-H program regularly set up experiences where youth explore options and make decisions.  One example of this is with the Milan Youth Council in Milan, Minnesota.

Working together is at the heart of making meaningful change.  The Well Connected Communities initiative is a partnership with Cooperative Extension System and National 4-H Council, which provides resources to help youth working with adults identify and make meaningful change.

A team of youth and adults from Milan attended the National 4-H Healthy Living Summit and Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health training in Washington DC this past February.  They went with a delegation of youth and adults from the Moorhead area and Frogtown neighborhood in Ramsey County.   The teams were busy for four days attending leadership, citizenship, healthy lifestyles and problem solving workshops with others from across the nation.  They also came up with ideas for their communities to thrive, be healthier and be more connected communities. 

"We want to make our Micronesian community more engaged in healthy lifestyles." - Jy Iouanis and Matthew Herman, Milan youth representatives

The County Health Rankings and Roadmap was one of the resources explored to make informed decisions on how to make communities healthier.  Teams checked out their counties health rankings in key areas around health outcomes – length of life and quality of life and health factors including health behaviors, social & economics factors and physical environment.

The Milan team discovered that Chippewa County ranked 53rd out of 87 Minnesota counties for health behaviors that includes an increasing adult obesity rate, and an increasing physical inactivity rate.  Based on this and other gathered information, the youth have decided to host bi-weekly community walks through Milan and monthly summer community picnics.   The goal of their project is to decrease the percentage of inactive people (reduce obesity rate) by encouraging Milan residents (a culturally and ethnically diverse population) to increase physical activity and social connectedness by engaging them in 5 o’clock community walks and picnics on a regular basis.  The youth, with the support of adults and Extension staff, are now in the planning stages for making the walks and picnics a reality, which can help make meaningful change that will contribute to the health of the community. 

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