After missing the cut on a Blue Zone designation, local nonprofit spearheads new health program

Although an attempt by local health leaders to designate Prineville as a Blue Zone didn't pan out, work did not end to improve community health and longevity.

Last week, at the conclusion of its Picnic in the Park series, the Crook County Foundation unveiled its new Crook County on the Move program. The new initiative seeks to support an enjoyable community for all by making the healthy choice the easy and fun choice.

Blue Zone is the name given to a community or area whose citizens enjoy better health and longevity. The term originated when National Geographic and longevity experts teamed up to traverse the globe and found pockets of people who reach age 100 at rates 10 times greater than people in the United States.

During the Blue Zones selection process last fall, Crook County showed enthusiasm for improving the health and wellness of the community. It was then announced in late September that the community had been chosen as a top-three finalist by the Oregon Blue Zones Project. In early October, more than 130 local residents gathered at Meadow Lakes to discuss making Prineville the newest site of Blue Zones.

After the site visit, community leaders waited through the fall and winter months to find out if Prineville would make the final cut. They found out this spring that they did not, but even though the community did not become an official demonstration site, the enthusiasm for the designation inspired the community to launch its own comprehensive wellness project.

According to Daleena Green, Crook County Foundation's executive director, the foundation was slated to serve as the fiscal agent had Prineville received the Blue Zone designation. But when it came time to launch an alternative program, foundation leaders felt the nonprofit should take a more prominent role.

"We felt like there was deeper need for it to just become a program of the foundation," she said. "It fits in our mission under community vitality, which really incorporates community wellness and those kinds of things, because it's not just a health initiative. It is very all-encompassing — everything from social to promoting activity to healthy eating."

Three focus groups have been formed to begin the work of this initiative. Keep Moving seeks to incorporate movement into people's daily lives. Be Nourished focuses on energizing locals' lives with a variety of delicious wholesome foods, and Stay Refreshed seeks to cultivate connections and creating a sense of purpose.

Green said a committee has worked for the past three months on developing a strategic plan for the new program. The chair of that committee, Donna Barnes, said they are taking community input as they develop the specifics of Crook County on the Move. A Facebook page is already online, and a website will launch at some point in the near future.

"We are fairly early in the process. We have done a lot of structural work, and we have some ideas of what we can do," Barnes said, suggesting they might employ some public challenges with prizes awarded. "We are applying for grants that focus on one of, or all of these (focus) topics to try to bring in some additional funding and expertise to the community to help build up these areas."

While the foundation is spearheading the program, the nonprofit is working with numerous other organizations, including St. Charles Health System and Crook County Health Department as well as Central Oregon Trail Alliance, NeighborImpact, Better Together, Crook County and the City of Prineville.

"The objective (of Crook County on the Move) is to bring different organizations together," Barnes said, "so we can share challenges and ideas and come up with programs."

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