Vicksburg wins national award from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Published 11:24 am Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A community-wide effort to improve the health and wellbeing of residents has paid off for Vicksburg.

It was announced Tuesday that Vicksburg is just one of eight cities to be chosen among 200 communities as a Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health winner. The award includes a $25,000 cash prize and membership in a network of 35 other prize-winning communities that have demonstrated “unwavering efforts to ensure all residents have the opportunity to live healthier lives.”

Linda Fondren, founder of Shape Up Vicksburg stated, “when we make a commitment to do better for ourselves and then come together to help each other in our commitments, mountains can be moved.”

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Fondren is one of four members of the Vicksburg Live Healthy Action Team that helped with Vicksburg becoming a finalist for the award in March from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The team also includes United Way of West Central Mississippi executive director Michele Connelly, city grants writer Marcia Weaver and former Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce executive director Jane Flowers.

“The cultural health prize, is not just about one person,” Fondren said. “It’s not about one program going on, it’s about what the entire city and county are doing to address health issues in our community.”

“It’s not something we did, other than just advocate for all the wonderful things that are happening here in Vicksburg,” Connelly said. “We were the vehicle of sharing the accomplishments of our entire community.”

Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr., was also excited about the distinction.

“It is indeed an honor for the City of Vicksburg, to receive such a prestigious award for our community. I would like to thank the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for honoring Vicksburg with the Culture of Health Prize. This award is the culmination of our entire community working together and collaborating to ensure that all citizens have the opportunity to live healthier lives. We have dedicated individuals and organizations in our city who are committed to pursuing ideas that will make Vicksburg a better place to live for everyone. I am truly appreciative of everyone’s efforts on this project.”

Vicksburg officials will join the other communities being recognized this year at the Culture of Health Prize Celebration and Learning Event at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey, on Oct. 11-12.

In honor of the recognition, a celebration event will be held at the Vicksburg Municipal Auditorium on Oct. 30.

U.S. Senators Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., were among those congratulating the City of Vicksburg on its selection by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“I am proud of Vicksburg and its leaders for working together to improve the health and quality of life for its citizens. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health designation can help motivate greater achievement in Warren County and across our state,” Cochran said.

“Vicksburg is an example of what can happen when concerned citizens rally around a common cause,” Wicker said. “I am hopeful that this award will empower local leaders to continue improving lives and providing an example for other Mississippi communities to follow.”

The other communities awarded by the RWJF include:

  • Algoma, Wisconsin
    • Allen County, Kansas
    • Chelsea, Massachusetts
    • Garrett County, Maryland
    • Richmond, Virginia
    • San Pablo, California
    • Seneca Nation of Indians in western New York

The application to the foundation highlighted four areas, or accomplishments:

  • The fitness and nutrition efforts of Shape Up Mississippi and Shape Up Vicksburg, to provide free health and fitness classes; efforts to encourage African-Americans to have a healthy lifestyle by promoting walking programs in the Vicksburg National Military Park and the “walk with a doc” program, a collaboration between Shape Up Mississippi, Merit Health River Region and Walk America, where doctors walked with participants and answered health-related questions.
  • The collaboration between Shape Up Mississippi, the city of Vicksburg, Alcorn State University and My Brother’s Keeper, a nonprofit organization that promotes health and wellness, to develop a community garden at the Vicksburg Municipal Airport.
  • The city of Vicksburg’s commitment improving health and wellness through the development of walking tracks, the installation of a skate park and collaboration with My Brother’s Keeper, to install a new walking track by the skate park and provide amenities at other walking trails and parks, city-sponsored youth sports programs and camps.
  • The Leader in Me Program in the city’s public school system, which helps equip students with self-confidence and the skills they will need to be successful, and teaches them to be creative, set and meet goals, get along with people from different cultures and backgrounds, and how to resolve conflicts and solve problems.
  • The Vicksburg Police Department’s Randy Naylor Street Ball Program in the summer, which helps keep children occupied during the summer evenings, the city’s summer youth employment program, which also teaches the workers life skills, and the Randy Naylor Foundation, which has youth programs to help senior citizens.

According to RWJF, Vicksburg’s notable efforts demonstrated excellence in six criteria: defining health in the broadest possible terms; committing to sustainable systems changes and policy-oriented long-term solutions; cultivating a shared and deeply-held belief in the importance of equal opportunity for health; harnessing the collective power of leaders, partners and community members; securing and making the most of available resources; and measuring and sharing progress and results.

What makes the city’s designation so prestigious, Fondren said, is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the largest health foundation the U.S. Since 1972, they have supported research and programs targeting some of America’s most pressing health issues-from substance abuse to improving access to quality health care.

“They publish health data on every county in the United States and they look at the bigger picture of health and our health extends in how we work and how we play an how we live an what our community is about, so that’s what the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was about, and it was so good for our community,” Fondren said.