The Healthy Kids for Kingston partnership managed tensions related to differing individual and organizational interests by creating an advisory network, focusing on co-creating a vision and collaborating with residents in more focused and meaningful ways. This generated more room for participants to engage in hands-on, program-oriented opportunities and encouraged partner self-restraint as community leadership asserted itself.
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This vision would not be realized without challenges, as nearly one-fifth of Kinston’s population of 24,000 lived in poverty, and about 44 percent of youth were overweight or obese, according to 2009 statistics, the year Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities started.
Midtown, home to many renters and lower-income families from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, is an area of greatest challenge in the city. This is an area impacted by a four-lane main road that bisects the city. Although Kingston boasts a variety of recreational resources, including a nature center and riverfront beach, Midtown only contains one small park and a few small school playgrounds, and many children cannot reach them without hazarding their way across the busy central thoroughfare of Broadway. The road has neither median strips nor bike lanes. “Kids in Midtown and throughout the city haven’t been able to travel safely to parks, recreational centers, stores or even to school,” noted project director Kristen Wilson.
Kingston’s landscape also offers lots of potential for creating environments conducive to active living and healthy eating. The city is under three miles across at its widest point, making accessibility for people on foot or on a bicycle a very feasible prospect. A city-led effort branded as BEAT (Business, Education, Arts, and Technology) aims to revitalize Midtown and the Broadway Corridor. Another effort to develop Kingston as a multi-modal hub connecting three rail trails coming from different directions is under way with support of the city and the county.
The Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) partners in Kingston have worked to eliminate the barriers and tap into the potential for youth to be physically active and have access to healthy foods. Led by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County in collaboration with the Kingston Parks and Recreation Department, the Kingston Land Trust, the Community Heart Health Coalition, Gilmour Planning, the Kingston City School District, Family of Woodstock, the Kingston Farmers’ Market, the YMCA of Kingston, Rose Women’s Care Service, the Center for Creative Education, the Mid-Hudson Health and Safety Institute, and several Ulster County departments, HKHC funding has been used to tackle planning and policy to make Kingston a healthy city.
These accomplishments are creating a culture of health within the city and resulted in the formation of the Live Well Kingston coalition to keep the momentum going. The coalition is supported by the city, with the Mayor and Common Council calling for city organizations, community partners and citizens to join. “A city-championed coalition can bring organizations, business, and individuals together under a common agenda for our health,” Wilson said.
Five medal awards from Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties and the National League of Cities for the partnership’s accomplishments in the areas of healthier early care and education programs, participation in the School Breakfast Program, and increased access for physical activity and play spaces.