Director explains initiative, plans
ST. ALBANS — Adults of the world, let’s face it: staying in shape and making healthy choices aren’t the two easiest things to do on top of working one or more jobs, taking care of children, keeping house and the number of other responsibilities we juggle each day.
According to various data, people especially struggle with eating fresh, nutritious food, getting exercise and living a healthy lifestyle in Franklin and Grand Isle counties.
For that reason, about 20 community leaders came together two years ago to create a health initiative that is funded through the Vermont Department of Health and Northwestern Medical Center. RiseVT, which launched June 1, has hit the ground running with its local exercise events, website, wellness portal, health advocates and the person organizing it all: Dorey Demers.
Demers, a Franklin County native and a nurse who specializes in public health, became the RiseVT coordinator in January. As the face of RiseVT it’s not only her job to engage local businesses, schools, organizations, individuals and families in facilitating healthier lifestyles – she’s also participating, right along with everyone else.
“I’m right on this journey with everyone,” said Demers in a recent interview. “A lot of us are in this same boat. I want it, too.”
Meeting at the Traveled Cup on Monday, Demers explained how RiseVT works.
Acting as a sort of community-wide health coach, it will reach out to everyone it can in the two-county area to encourage healthier decision-making. The common approach, said Demers, is to make all feel comfortable and welcome to join RiseVT.
“People think about health and automatically a wall comes up. Especially for individuals, it’s a scary topic,” she said. “The idea is to make it fun.”
Demers, for instance, may be one of the bubbliest people out there – her big smile and upbeat attitude radiate fun, excitement and positivity that she brings to her job as coordinator.
RiseVT is also about creating manageable goals for everyone. “It’s this vicious cycle,” said Demers of the tendency for people to diet, exercise intensely, stop, and then fall back into old habits.
Instead, small, sustainable adjustments – both for an individual and for the families, businesses, schools and municipalities with which they interact – can have big results down the road.
“Our goal is small changes – even if its something as simple as three times a week, you’re going to turn on music and dance around with your family,” said Demers. “I carry a water bottle with me all the time now – I never did that before.”
She added, “These small changes can have a huge impact.”
RiseVT is providing a number of ways to begin making those changes. The first, and perhaps most simple tool, is using social media and the “event & resources” part of its website to educate the community on the recreational and fresh food opportunities already offered, such as farmers markets, local road races, recreation department classes and free summer meals.
“The goal of this was to amplify our community resources,” said Demers, adding that RiseVT does cross-promotions with groups such as the Healthy Roots Collaborative, Let’s Grow Kids and other organizations. “Facebook has been huge for RiseVT,” she said. “We’re seeing a support network growing online.”
Throughout the month of June, daily contests were posted on the page and resulted in more than 1,400 “likes,” 400 “shares” and 400 “comments.” People submitted “healthy selfies,” for example, to enter to win a $250 Hannaford Supermarket gift card.
Demers said the initiative is also creating some of its own events, like the #RiseVT Show-up, an hour-long, free physical activity session in Taylor Park that she and a number of others go to at 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. every Wednesday.
“It’s our most consistent event,” said Demers. “Our first Show Up event, we had 25 people. They keep coming.” They’ve had to add a later, 8 a.m. session, and now, said Demers, other communities are asking for Show Up events, too.
RiseVT also has a free, online wellness portal that anyone can sign up for to keep track of food, weight, blood pressure and physical activity, and chat with and ask questions of a live health coach – RiseVT’s very own Brian Clukey.
The wellness portal also comes as an app for smartphones. “It’s really this tool that can be used by anyone,” said Demers. As of now, 120 people are signed up and using it.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of RiseVT is the scorecard it offers. Accessed by simply downloading it from the website, individuals, families, businesses, municipalities and schools all have the chance to use a scorecard to assess how healthy they are, and where they can improve.
“We have scorecards for everyone,” said Demers. “What I challenge individuals and families to do is try it, do a couple of things. Post it on your refrigerator,” she said. “I’ve got my scorecard right on my fridge – my family and I are doing it.”
There are scorecard submission dates every few months – the first is in September. “What’s nice about this is once it’s submitted, we’re actually going to take [our] health advocates and pair them up to create an action plan.”
Demers said the scorecard process is empowering for individuals and families while being beneficial for everyone in businesses, schools and municipalities. Peoples Trust Company, for instance, adopted a breast-feeding friendly policy to facilitate quiet spaces and flexible breaks for nursing mothers.
“Breast feeding has huge health impacts late in life – the more we can support that in businesses, the longer moms will breastfeed their kids,” said Demers. She added that RiseVT is also working with Fletcher School to create a Safe Routes to School program that allows students to walk or bike to school.
“It’s going to take some brainstorming, but we’ve got the right people at the school,” said Demers. “We’re going to be the experts that get the resources to [everyone].”
Thus far, 563 individuals have taken the RiseVT pledge to lead healthier lifestyles, and 12 businesses, four schools and three municipalities – Swanton Town, Swanton Village and St. Albans Town – have all begun filling out scorecards.
The goal is to keep those numbers growing, said Demers, and create a wrap-around system where each entity encourages and facilitates healthy living.
“We want to make the healthy choice the easiest choice,” said Demers.
With just a month under its belt as an official initiative, RiseVT appears to have a bright future ahead of it – it’s already expanding across several communities and will be hiring more staff soon. Though its funding technically runs out at the end of 2016, Demers said she and everyone else knows that for RiseVT to be successful, it’s going to be more than a two year project.
“This is not a two year project, this is a 10-year project, this is a forever project,” said Demers. “We’re always looking for more funding, we’re always looking for more sustainability.”
Finding a way to make healthy living the mode of living long lives, said Demers, will be a true mark of its success. “If we can figure out how to do that, hold on to it – it’s going to change the world. It’s going to change our country and how it functions,” she said.
With that big picture in mind, Demers said right now, it’s all about starting small.
“I think I’m pretty relatable,” said Demers. “I’m a full-time working mom and I’ve got a husband and I’ve got two step-kids and I’ve got a dog and we’ve got a busy life. It’s hard. I’m not this triathlon person that that has never really struggled.”
She added, “We don’t want everyone to become marathon runners. Not to say it’s a bad thing – we want people to make those small changes that are going to motivate them.”
That, said Demers, is what RiseVT is all about.
“It’s keeping this momentum, finding that sustainability and making it work long-term,” she said.
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Note: The Messenger’s every-Tuesday health and wellness page carries RiseVT updates.