One of the popular physical activities brought to Houston by HSHC is the annual Houston Mayor's Walking Club.

Since 2013, Healthy Schools Healthy Communities (HSHC) has been working in Texas County to help kids and their families be more active and eat a healthier diet.

HSHC is an initiative of the Missouri Foundation for Health (MFH) primarily designed to address childhood obesity, and reduce it 5-percent over a five-year period. HSHC strives to bring together schools, community organizations, businesses, parents and residents to increase access to healthy food and physical activity where kids live, learn and play.

The MFH was formed in February 2000 as a result of Blue Cross Blue Shield’s changeover from a nonprofit to for-profit company, because federal law requires that proceeds from the sale of tax-exempt entities be directed toward charitable purposes.

In 2013, Cabool became the first Texas County community to benefit from a five-year HSHC grant period. Houston was added in 2014 and Willow Springs in 2015.

According to MFH data, more than 25-percent of Missouri kids ages 10 to 17 are obese or overweight. The initiative’s basic goal is to increase access to healthy food and promote physical activity, and in turn try to help children in kindergarten through eighth-grade reach and maintain a healthy weight.

HSHC’s local operation is based at the Texas County Health Department. Administration of HSHC grant funding in Houston and Cabool has for two years been overseen by community wellness coordinator Earlene Stoops.

The Houston School District is closely involved and has its own HSHC coordinator, Loran Richardson

“We’re reaching all across Houston in terms of activities,” Stoops said. “There’s a lot going on and a lot more to come.”

Since its inception in the county, HSHC has funded (completely or in part) or otherwise assisted in dozens of activities and improvements related to the primary goal.

Some of those:

• Walking clubs for individuals and families were organized (including the Mayor’s Walking Club in Houston) and funding was provided to purchase industrial strollers for use during walks.

• Color-coded signage for Houston’s Village Trail system was funded.

• A bicycle rodeo and bike safety classes for kids were sponsored.

• Classes for parents and kids with regard to gardening, nutrition, food processing, safe food handling and cooking were funded and conducted.

• The addition of health-related recreational equipment at Rutherford Park, included a 12-piece “boot camp in-ground outdoor gym” designed for people ages 13-and-up, a set of playground equipment and a pair of molded bucket swings, all designed for kids ages 2-12.

• In partnership with Downtown Houston Inc., commercial cooking equipment was purchased and installed in the community kitchen along with round tables, new chairs and all entry signs at the Lonestar Annex.

• “Fit Family Fun Night” was organized at the Texas County Old Settlers Reunion.

• An informational sign was funded and assistance was provided to set up a credit/debit/EBT card payment system for the Lone Star Farmers Market.

• A storage building and raised planting beds for the Houston Community Garden were funded.

• Funding was provided for entry passes at the City of Houston pool.

• Multiple “color runs” for various groups were sponsored.

• A 3-point tiller was purchased for the City of Houston and is available for use by the public.

Included among many upcoming HSHC projects are a “healthy alternatives” section on the menu of a local restaurant, “Fruit 4 Kids” at local stores and an event called “Kid Tasted, Kid Approved.”

“There are just so many things that can affect the reduction of childhood obesity,” Stoops said. “It’s not just physical activity, it’s also the way we’re eating.”

Stoops also hopes a program called the “Organ Wise Guy” will show up in the future.

“It’s about body parts, and each part has a name like the heart is called hearty heart,” she said. “We’re bringing all kinds of resources into our schools so we can teach kids why we should eat right instead of just telling them we should. It’s like explaining to them that their body is like a car, and what you put into it may determine how long it runs.

“By making learning fun, we believe kids will absorb it better.”

Where and how HSHC spends money is ultimately determined by a board of directors at MFH offices in St. Louis. Stoops said ideas often begin with suggestions by local citizens.

“It’s a long process,” she said. “We have a committee that meets and we fill out a ‘Community Healthy Living Index,’ which is a tool that helps us see where we may need to improve and also our strong points. We ask for feedback on our Texas/Howell HSHC page on Facebook, and we try hard to hear from as many people as we can.”

A list of suggestions is once every two years formulated into an “action plan” presented to the board.

“It’s several lines of programs, events, environmental changes, policies and more we could do related to nutrition and physical activity,” Stoops said.

Having the community work together in HSHC-related projects is crucial to their success, Stoops said.

“Where I work, we all believe that ‘team’ stands for ‘together everyone achieves more,'” she said. “I know in my heart – and it’s just common sense – that the more people you have involved and the more open-minded you are regarding someone else’s ideas, the more you can see the big picture. You can take everybody’s ideas and almost see it like a fine-tuned machine working.”

Since taking the HSHC position, Stoops has been impressed by watching peoples’ reactions to the cause.

“I’ve found that when people see that you’re excited about something and really want to see it happen, people want to be part of that,” she said. “Then everyone comes together and it’s like it just happens. When everyone gets on the same page, get to know each other and start moving in the same direction, it turns out to be a beautiful thing.

“There are a lot of objectives along the way to reducing childhood obesity 5-percent in five years. It’s like a ladder; the goal is at the top and every objective is a step, and it takes a team effort to reach the top.”

Cabool’s five-year period as a recipient of HSHC grant funding ends in September 2018, while Houston’s runs through September 2019 and Willow Springs’ through September 2020.

For more information, call Stoops at 417-967-4131 or email stoops@texasmo.org.

“I just want to say ‘thank you’ to the city and community of Houston,” Stoops said, “for wanting to make a better place – not only for our kids, but for our whole community. Thank you to the Texas County Health Department for taking on this grant and giving me the opportunity to do a job I love.”

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