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Thanks to Richard Scott, Sarah Urtel and Laura Dimler for sharing their insights on All’s Well Waconia. Visit the HWHC YouTube channel to watch the video clips of their interviews.
“Working together through All’s Well Waconia has improved the quality of life in our community,” explained Richard Scott, director, grants and development for Waconia School District #110. “It’s improved what I like to call, the ‘joy factor.’”
There’s good reason to celebrate the progress made by the All’s Well Waconia collaboration. Since it launched in Waconia, Minn., in September 2013, organizers and volunteers describe a community where more people are eating healthier and locally, and where young people have more opportunities to be active. Perhaps most important are the deepening relationships driving the effort.
“We are fortunate to have many community members who are passionate and committed to building a healthier Waconia,” said Sarah Urtel, executive director of strategy and organizational effectiveness for Ridgeview Medical Center. “We’ve created this opportunity for people to come together and share expertise and collaborate where we have similar interests and enthusiasm.”
Urtel explained one of the many reasons for the success of All’s Well Waconia. “We don’t just focus on health care. Schools, large and small businesses, city officials – we make sure we have broad representation and involvement across the community.”
Leaders have focused their initial energy on two big priorities: healthy eating and active living. Their strategies include:
- supporting healthy eating in schools,
- making healthy eating easier and more convenient across the community,
- empowering youth to be more active through programming and mentoring, and
- improving infrastructure and buildings to support a more active life.
Laura Dimler is an organic CSA (community supported agriculture) farmer and owner of Pampered Pumpkin. She calls All’s Well Waconia “my support system” and acknowledges that building a culture of healthy eating doesn’t happen overnight.
“It’s a process of education and implementation – expanding people’s palates and learning to eat seasonally,” Dimler said. “Local is clearly far better, even from a taste perspective. Even kids like the vegetables we grow.”
What can other communities learn from All’s Well Waconia?
Scott recommends that collaborations start by identifying what’s already working in the community. “Honor what people bring to the table, and build on that. We’re not about reinventing the wheel.”
The new FIERCE program for boys (Fortitude, Integrity, Endurance, Responsibility, Courage, Energetic) is a good example. FIERCE is modeled on Waconia’s already successful More Than Pink program that is designed to empower girls. Both efforts support the All’s Well Waconia goal of increasing opportunities for active living among youth.
Urtel offers similar advice: “Don’t feel like you have to be an expert in health or wellness. Acknowledge where you’re strong, and look for others to complement your strengths, interest and passion.”
This openness to new ideas and contributors has fueled a string of healthy successes for All’s Well Waconia. In local schools, meals are now almost entirely scratch-made, with mostly organic ingredients from local farmers like Dimler. Students do double-duty as school gardeners and enthusiastic taste testers. And a new pasta maker, made possible through a grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, enables the district to use local ingredients to make healthy and tasty pasta for all its students.
Maintaining energy and momentum in community collaborations can be challenging, especially in the early stages. But that’s where ownership comes in.
“We all own this,” said Urtel. “We’re all a part of the community and own the success and the learnings from our efforts.”
Scott acknowledges that it’s important to keep celebrating successes – even the small steps – along the way. “We need motivation and encouragement to take what we’re doing to the next level.”
An important next step is measuring progress and outcomes. All’s Well Waconia hopes to partner with the SEARCH Institute for ongoing program evaluation, and conducting a comprehensive community assessment around 40 assets that impact community health.
“We’re committed for the long-term,” said Scott. “By working together, Waconia will become a safer, healthier, happier place to live.”