Kane County branded its integrated suite of health-oriented, long-range plans as “Quality of Kane” and used terms such as “promise,” “prosperity,” “quality of life” and “for everyone.” It successfully promoted Illinois’ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program redemption at new farmers’ markets and a farmland protection ordinance for rural economic development opportunities. A flexible frame helped the Kane County Fit for Kids initiative thrive even through the loss of its initial leadership and a significant post-election change in the county board.
Forty miles west of Chicago lies Kane County, home to more than 500,000 people. Most of them live in cities strung along the Fox River, which two decades of rapid growth has turned into a dense urban corridor. The population boom was driven by young families expanding out from Chicago, including many first-generation immigrants. Between 1990 and 2007, the county’s Latino population more than tripled, and today, Latinos comprise 28 percent of Kane’s population. Over 30 percent of residents over age 5, live in a home where a language other than English is spoken. Together, the cities of Aurora and Elgin along with three smaller mid-county municipalities that are collectively called the Tri-Cities account for more than 95 percent of its Latino and African-American residents.
County leaders have recognized the myriad growing pains that accompanied this expansion and are taking steps to make Kane safe, healthy and livable for current and future residents. In particular, the health department has worked with a wide variety of local partners to reverse childhood obesity and reduce chronic disease, especially among the most at-risk children in the community. Making Kane County Fit for Kids (FFK), the county’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities project, developed a Fit Kids 2020 blueprint to guide future healthy eating- and active living-related efforts as well as supportive structures for funding and implementation.
“Where we live has such a powerful influence on our health,” said Project Director Michael Isaacson. “We’re working together to ensure that our investments in transportation, agriculture, economic development and education here in Kane all have a positive impact on the health of our community.”
Key accomplishments include:
Changed the focus on long-range planning in Kane County through passage of a suite of plans, now called “Quality of Kane,” that all integrate community health with land use, transportation, economic development and other traditional planning focus areas. Approved plans include the Fit Kids 2020 Plan, the Community Health Improvement Plan, the 2040 Land Use Plan and the 2040 Transportation Plan which advances transit and complete streets. All focus on creating healthy people, healthy living and healthy communities.
Created the Fit for Kids Funders’ Consortium, a public-private partnership, which has made more than $420,000 available to the community for implementation of projects focusing on policy, environmental and system change across sectors in Kane County. Recently the Funders’ Consortium approved funding for a Fit For Kids staff position to sustain coordination of the work.
Created the Kane County Planning Cooperative to address critical planning issues and gaps among the county’s municipalities and provide technical assistance. Funded initiatives implement one or more of the Kane County 2040 Plan’s six high priority health, land use and transportation policy recommendations.
Installed playgrounds and climbing walls at schools for joint use by the community, and converted a vacant lot next to two soccer fields into a playground for young children.
Expanded participation in International Walk to School Day to include 60 schools from all nine county school districts. Over 37 percent of all Illinois schools participating in Walk to School Day were from Kane County. For many schools, Walk to School Day was a catalyst to other wellness initiatives.
Expanded the acceptance of LINK (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Illinois residents), to all three Aurora Farmers’ Market locations and the Elgin Harvest Farmers’ Market. LINK revenue has shown a steady increase. Elgin Harvest Market received Community Reinvestment funds from an international bank for double value couponing at the market. New market revenue over the last three years is expected to exceed $35,000. This has expanded the availability of local, fresh food to low-income residents.
Expanded community gardens to 1380 garden plots available for lease, up from about 800 garden plots in 2010. Additional community gardens are now located in low-income neighborhoods, on public land, at schools and churches. Elgin adopted a policy allowing community members to lease long-term vacant lots for community gardens and expanded its community garden network to 29 locations. Gardens are a source of produce for local residents or are donated to food pantries or soup kitchens.
Installed refrigeration equipment at several of the Northern Illinois Food Bank’s local food pantries and one school. This expands the capacity for the pantries and schools to provide fresh produce and dairy to low-income community members.
Conducted a health impact assessment on the impact of expanding farmland preservation to include small, urban farms. In 2013, the new farmland protection ordinance, Growing for Kane, was passed to encourage an increase in local fruit, vegetable, dairy and meat production.
“The Fit For Kids process has dramatically increased the scope and scale of collaboration across the county on issues affecting children’s health,” according to Project Coordinator Jane Maxwell. “These collaborations have brought new resources to the work and an expanded understanding of how it improves quality of life for all the residents of our county.”