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Woodbury THRIVES to define what a healthy community looks like

Spring is a time when Minnesotans just seem to start feeling better and doing more healthy activities. But a new initiative around Woodbury aims to help residents feel better and be healthier all year long.

Called Woodbury THRIVES, the wellness initiative is being introduced to the community this month. It's a project that has been in the works for over a year already and will hopefully become a permanent way of life for residents for years to come.

Woodbury is in a unique position to launch such an initiative, too, thanks to the numerous health care facilities in the city. These businesses offer hundreds of experts in health care—many of whom will say that some ailments can be avoided by simply living a healthier lifestyle.

But what that means, exactly, is still being determined. The idea of "wellness" is alive and well, but every person has his or her own idea of what that might be. And that's where Woodbury THRIVES hopes to come in.

A grassroots committee made up of community members from the City of Woodbury, Washington County Public Health, the Woodbury Area Chamber of Commerce, the Woodbury Community Foundation and HealthEast started to put together a framework for what is being promoted as the Woodbury THRIVES project.

The project started in June 2014, when former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger hosted a leadership forum that was attended by some of Woodbury THRIVES' key organizers. The key to improving the public health system, he told the group, was in living a healthier lifestyle and trying to prevent ailments in the first place.

It was initially billed as the Woodbury Culture of Health project, but after working through the planning and goal-setting process, team members decided it need to be called something different—something that reflected the positive, energetic direction of the project. And so Woodbury THRIVES was chosen as the name.

"It all came down to Woodbury THRIVES," said Roger Green. "We thought it was a positive and forward-thinking approach to this project, especially when you think about the community and all of its aspects."

A part-time project manager named Maria Bitanga was hired to coordinate the outreach efforts that are starting to take place in Woodbury.

While each committee member had an idea of what he or she thought wellness is, the group knew their ideas would not necessarily be reflective of the rest of the community's version of wellness. With the help of Bitanga, the committee decided to reach out to the community to get those questions answered.

Bitanga came up with a series of five questions about wellness—topics that ask Woodbury residents to think about how they define health, what they see as challenges and barriers to living a healthy life, and so on. Those questions are now being posed to organizations, businesses, and residents in the community through a series of what Bitanga calls, "Community Conversations."

By holding the Community Conversations, the Woodbury THRIVES folks hope to draw up a definition that will be the platform from which future wellness planning will be launched.

"This definition needs to come from the voice of the people of Woodbury," Bitanga said. "Every Community Conversation will have the same framework and follow the same script, but it will be expanded to fit the needs of different audiences. So it's happening in living rooms, it's happening in schools, it's happening in lay organizations, and really getting that cross-section of the entire community."

The Community Conversations will be held with 30 to 40 different target groups around the community, from April through June. A number of meetings will be scheduled at locations like city hall or the library, so residents who are not part of any of the target groups can still have input.

"What you will see as this develops is groups working from the ground up, not the top down," Woodbury Community Foundation Board Chairman Jack Lanners said. "The possibilities are endless, but it has to be the people who drive where it goes."

Once the Community Conversations are complete, the committee will compile all of the information and come up with a plan to start meeting some of the needs identified. And none of the committee members see that plan as a one-time fix. Instead, it will be a plan with give and take, so it can change as the wishes and needs of the community change.

"We're just trying to make sure everybody has what they need," Woodbury Area Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Tuccito Warren said. "A healthy citizen makes a productive city."

Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens is excited to be part of the Woodbury THRIVES initiative. The project, she said, goes a long way to helping the City of Woodbury meet its own goal of fostering an inclusive, welcoming community because it gives residents an opportunity to have input on what will likely be a major, on-going community initiative.

"I think the Community Conversations will be a really positive experience," she said. "It will be really interesting to see how all of this comes together and what information comes out of it, what are the things people are thinking about and what is important to them as community members."

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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