ioby’s Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge is launching loud and proud this week. We’re super excited to be partnering with the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHF) to support citizen leaders in nine neighborhoods and cities across New York as they take an active role in creating a culture of health where they live. Extra excitingly, the first $200 of each gift supporters like you make to their campaigns will be matched dollar-for-dollar by NYSHF through September 30!
Turn It Up Tuesdays
“We’re asking people if they want to come dance in the park—not exercise,” says Renee Matthews, leader of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge project Turn It Up Tuesdays. “If you say, ‘exercise,’ people will say, ‘Oh, that’s too hard.’ But if you say, ‘dancing,’ that just means ‘fun.’ ”
Renee is a Niagara Falls native who worked in Buffalo for 17 years and is now back in her hometown, serving as Executive Director of the Highland Community Revitalization Committee. She says she first got into dance workouts with her sisters, in their living rooms. “We always marveled at how much fun dancing is as a way to burn calories and lose weight without even trying,” she says. “We had so much fun that I wanted to take it to the community.” Turn It Up Tuesdays will invite families and friends to join a high-energy line dancing party in a local park once a month this fall, and twice a month in spring and summer 2017. “It’s like going to the club, but outside!” she says. “My goal is for people to just think it’s a party, it’s a laugh. But they’re actually getting fit.”
One of nine children—who now has 19 nieces and nephews and 26 great-nieces and nephews—Renee is well aware of how family habits can play a role in wellness, and of the uphill battle the young people around her are facing to get and stay healthy. “My mom had cancer and heart disease; my dad was diabetic,” she says. “Here, those are typical issues. Every other person you know has one of them. And now they’re starting to affect younger and younger people—children and young adults. Our whole community is experiencing major health problems, but we especially don’t want to see our kids with the same health issues our parents faced.”
Renee says her neighborhood isn’t “exercise-friendly”—it lacks bike paths and lanes, fitness equipment in parks, and healthy food options. “Our pocket park just has two benches in it,” she says. “Nothing to help you exercise, no signs that say, ‘Let’s get fit! This is how to do a push-up, a pull-up, a sit-up.’ We also have junk food on every corner; it’s only, ‘Get a soda, get something to microwave.’ I want people on the street to sell salad and fruit and water instead of a hot dog. Something that’s pretty on a plate, not a hot dog with sugary condiments on it.” Niagara Falls is also not very walkable, Renee says, and her neighborhood is bookended by two major hospitals. “That sends the message that we’re sick people, and we stay sick,” she says.
While Renee can’t cure all these ailments overnight, she says that “people can change their lifestyles on a minute-by-minute basis, day by day.” To help them, she’s aiming to illustrate that getting exercise can be a fun challenge, not a dreaded, difficult one. “I hope people see that it’s very easy to do this,” she says. “Dancing is an easy challenge—people don’t even realize they’re burning calories! You can also take 10 or 15 minutes on your lunch break and walk around the block. It really isn’t that hard!”
Renee says she wants Turn It Up Tuesdays to be a springboard for more wellness initiatives in Niagara Falls. “I do expect it to go further,” she says. “I want us all to talk about what we eat, about how we want to see ourselves in the future… I want more people to get involved and create their own healthy challenges: a bike rally, a family-style healthy picnic. My project begins with exercise; it doesn’t stop there.”
Beside the health benefits, Renee says she sees an opportunity for new social interactions through her project, too. “We’re advertising this far and wide, and I’m excited to see how the community will come together,” she says. “We want to bring people here who wouldn’t normally come to our neighborhood. We want them to see that they can have fun in a place that they usually wouldn’t even drive through.”
Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.