CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s been four years since some health officials in Williamson decided it was time to take drastic measures to help get the community in shape and eating better. Thursday, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation handed town leaders a check for $25,000, a prize for creating a program that’s having an impact not just on those around the county and across the country.

Courtesy photo

Williamson residents have helped build community gardens in recent years.

Dr. Dino Beckett, the medical director of the Williamson Health and Wellness Center was on hand in Aspen, CO for the Ideas Festival to accept the RWJF Culture of Health prize. Two-hundred and fifty cities and towns applied, Williamson and five other communities were chosen.

Dr. Beckett said it all started in 2010 with a farmers market to provide fresh produce to residents, many of whom didn’t have close access to a grocery store. From there, Beckett explained, they decided to give people a place to grow their own food.

“We’ve conveniently got community gardens that are located across from housing developments. They can rent those plots. Right now, we have a waiting list,” according to Beckett.

The community gardens were so successful, those growing the produce had a chance to eat and share.

“They can take that produce and enjoy it themselves or they can share it with neighbors or they can become entrepreneurs and sell it at our farmers market,” stressed Beckett.

Other programs include monthly 5k races and a wellness walk. Thirty-five businesses have teams that are participating. The goal is to “walk” to Marin City, CA. The members of the health center there were inspired by the folks in Williamson. They became sister cities and now people in Marin are “walking” to Williamson.

Joe Marx with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said it was progressive programs like that that helped Williamson earn the Culture of Health prize.

“It’s how they’re creatively using the resources they have, working in partnership with others and say ‘How do we really transform the health of the people of Williamson?'”

Dr. Beckett said their are other programs in place like community health workers serving as liaisons between doctors and patients to empower residents to live healthier lifestyles. They also have a diabetes program to teach people how to plan and fix meals that are tasty and healthy and they’ve been monitoring hemoglobin A1C levels, an indicator of diabetes.

As for that $25,000 prize, Dr. Beckett said it will be put to good use.

“We’ll decide how to best spend those dollars to sustain programs we’ve already got in existence and start new programs that help with outreach to our community,” Beckett said.

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