Local health initiative gathers community feedback

MARSHALL – Last month, local residents heard what a community survey had to say about ways to make Marshall a healthier place. On Tuesday evening, members of the public were invited to weigh in with their own feedback. During a brainstorming session at the Marshall Area YMCA, community members said they’d like to see affordable and accessible ways to help get in shape or improve their health.

About 40 people, including Marshall area residents and supporters of a local health initiative, attended the meeting. Speakers gave a brief overview of a community health survey made possible with help from the My Marshall grassroots organization and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. My Marshall kicked off a Marshall area community health initiative in July, with a survey of stakeholders including area residents and businesses. Survey participants identified concerns they wanted the initiative to address, from weight management and encouraging exercise to managing mental health risks.

Community health is an important factor for economic growth in the region, said Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes.

“People need more than employment. They come to Marshall because it’s a healthy place to raise a family,” Byrnes said Tuesday. He said the community has already made some investments in good health, like the YMCA, expanding bike and walking trails, supporting locally-grown produce through a farmers market and participating in the state’s Farm to School program.

But as audience members broke into small discussion groups, it was clear there was much more to be done. The groups were asked to talk about what they wanted from a community health initiative and name some possible community partners that could help make it happen.

Community members said Tuesday that they would like to see an expansion of health resources that are already available in the Marshall area. Making healthy choices affordable was important, they said. It was equally important to encourage all Marshall residents, including minority populations, youth and people with disabilities to take part.

Audience members also came up with a varied list of possible community health partners, ranging from local schools and educators to area sports and outdoor organizations. For example, one possible way to encourage physical activity in the winter could be to groom trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Supporters said the next steps in the health initiative will be to organize a team of volunteers to run with the community’s feedback.

“We know that we need to form a team,” said Stacy Frost, co-chairperson of the My Marshall group and director of development at Southwest Minnesota State University. My Marshall’s typical approach is to find one or two “champions” for a particular initiative and move forward from there, she said.

The volunteers would work to help form an action plan and engage the community, Frost said. Key parts of a community team would include area residents, organizations and institutions, health care providers, schools and employers.

Frost encouraged area residents to contact health initiative supporters if they’re interested in volunteering. More information on My Marshall and the community health initiative can be found online at www.mymarshallmn.com.