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Agencies work together to make a healthier neighborhood

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - 6:03 am

After several years of planning, the Neighborhood Health Initiative is taking shape, focused on an area on the near-northwest side of Fort Wayne.

The project area boundaries are Lindenwood Avenue, West State Boulevard, Wells Street and Main Street. It includes several schools, a Kroger, a couple of food banks, a branch library, Hamilton Park and the University of St. Francis.

The pilot program was the idea of Allen County Healthy Homes Program Director Amy Hesting and Fort Wayne-Allen County Health Commissioner Deborah McMahan.

McMahan said she first got the idea from looking at the approach Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control, is taking toward community health. Frieden is focusing on the social determinants of health instead of just looking at immunization and prevention. He has expanded the focus to include important elements of life that ultimately impact health.

“What we are trying to do here is create a microcosm where we can address those social determinants of health, but do it in places where people are already familiar with, and go to regularly, for help and assistance. We just want to provide the technical assistance to those anchors in the community that will hopefully address some of these important issues and improve the outcomes in health, mental health and education,” McMahan said.

The department would like to determine the root causes of some of the health issues in the community and sees this as one way to approach it. The ideal neighborhood would have healthy and safe houses, with safe places to walk and play, as well as good places to shop where healthy food choices are available.

Hesting and McMahan recently met with housing partners here in Fort Wayne. The city of Fort Wayne, Habitat for Humanity, Community Action of Northeast Indiana, United Way of Allen County, Aging and in Home Services and the Fort Wayne Housing Authority are all on board with the idea.

McMahan said they asked Roger Reece, executive director at Associated Churches, to recommend a couple of churches to act as anchors in a neighborhood for the project. Reece recommended Anchor Community Church and New Zion Tabernacle, which are already in a strong neighborhood.

Having gotten Crystal Bush, senior pastor of New Zion Tabernacle, and Pastor Tim Hallman of Anchor Community Church in on the plan, the next step will be to have a meeting with all the church pastors in the area. After that they will meet with their congregations to gauge the interest. There will also be focus groups for citizens who might not be involved in the churches to see what their needs are. Once they get a feel for what services people need, they can decide where to start.

“The more someone is encouraging you (in healthy habits), the more likely you are to be successful. If the environment supports you, and if you have encouragement and support through that relationship, it should work. If that doesn't work, I don't know what will,” McMahan said.

The program model is a work in progress. If they can get it to work in this area, they will take it to other parts of the city, areas with far fewer resources than this neighborhood. The idea is find out what the needs are and then use multiple agencies to support the innovations that are needed to make it a healthy neighborhood.

McMahan said every neighborhood will be different, but if they can discover a basic model to follow they will be able to adapt it to other areas. Hesting and McMahan said their primary focus is on improving conditions for children and the elderly.