Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 6:46 PM on Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Group maps path to healthier community

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photo by Adam Bauer, Homer News

Members of the Nanwalek dance group display dance steps before inviting attendees at MAPP of the Southern Kenai Peninsula's quarterly meeting on Friday to join them.

Looking for a path to healthier living? A group representing residents and resources from Ninilchik south have built a "map" to help with the search: MAPP of the Southern Kenai Peninsula.

Last week, representatives from the group and some new to the process gathered for a quarterly update, taking a look at what's been accomplished, how the impact has spread and where it can go from here. A group of dancers from Nanwalek brought the meeting to a close. True to tradition, they invited everyone attending to join them, an invitation which was gladly accepted.

"This is exciting," said Sharon Whytal, project coordinator, in her welcoming comments at Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage. "We have people who have been here from the start and we have people that are new."

MAPP — Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnership — of the Southern Kenai Peninsula got its start in 2008 when South Peninsula Hospital set out to develop a five-year strategic plan, Derotha Ferraro, SPH public relations director, told the gathering of more than 30 people. The hospital's effort blossomed into a collaborative endeavor to create a healthy plan for the entire southern peninsula, beginning with Ninilchik, stretching across Kachemak Bay including the Cook Inlet village of Nanwalek.

Building on that effort, health professionals, educators, agency and nonprofit representatives, as well as private individuals put their heads together to create a definition and vision for a healthy community.

"It was defined in a very broad way," said Ferraro of the vision that touched upon health services, transportation, the economy, food, energy and water systems, development of a community center, ecosystems, education, the arts, and healthy and safe families. Organized under the name Southern Kenai Peninsula Communities Project, a health assessment was completed and became the group's "driving document," said Ferraro.

Out of that groundswell of interest, three topics were chosen to be tackled: creating healthy lifestyle choices; addressing substance abuse and violence in families; and connecting community resources. Subgroups broke those topics down even more, assigning themselves specific activities with timelines for completion. A project leadership group oversaw the effort.

The group's name eventually became "MAPP of the Southern Kenai Peninsula," drawing from the MAPP process developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Association of City and Community Health Organizations. The process is designed to be a community-driven strategic planning process focused on improving community health.

"There are lots of ways to be involved," Whytal pointed out. "We are always looking for new energy and expertise."

Proving her point, Kyra Wagner gave a report on activities of the healthy lifestyle choices group. Finetuning the subject even further, it used "Homer eats healthy" as its theme.

Improved nutrition in schools is one area aided by the effort and evidenced by school gardens, such as the one students at Chapman School in Anchor Point are creating. Wagner also described the growing interest among students at Homer Flex School to prepare some of their meals, while in Nanwalek, school lunch menus now include student-caught salmon.

"Though we only do so much, it spreads and manifests itself in ways we never would have thought of," said Wagner of the group's impact.

Whytal said a seeming disconnect in data from a community survey — that substance abuse and violence in families were issues "in our community," but not "in my family" — indicated a need to explore those issues further and led to the formation of that particular group. Among its efforts has been a drive to offer more alcohol-free activities for people of all ages.

Along that line, Gail Edgerly, executive director of Homer Council on the Arts, announced that HCOA no longer serves alcohol at its gallery events.

Adam Bauer, webmaster for the Homer News, described how the "connecting community resources" group used "Homer is connected" as its vision statement. While constructing a literal community center was beyond its capability, a cooperative effort between the Homer News and MAPP of the Southern Kenai Peninsula has resulted in creation of a virtual community center.

The online database, found at www.pop411.org, contains information on more than 100 resources available on the southern peninsula. The site includes easy-to-follow directions so additional resources can be added to the site.

Building connections is what MAPP is all about, said Whytal.

"MAPP is a network to map a healthy future, not an organization," she told the Homer News. "In fact, it's meant to break down silos. People don't need to attend meetings to stay in touch with goings-on. You can go to our web site at mappofskp.net and sign up for the e-newsletter."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.