Community Transformation Grant transforms local communities
By Abigail Thorpe
Photo Courtesy of City of Bonners Ferry
Three years has brought a new appreciation and drive for community health to the cities of Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint, Idaho. In 2016, the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health selected both as recipients for its $250,000 Community Transformation Grants. The grants’ mission was simple, yet profound: to provide support and collaboration to bring communities together to support healthy outdoor opportunities and help fight childhood obesity.
From 2017-2019, Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint worked together with the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health to drive change in their communities. “These partnerships and relationships created will live on long after the grant ended. This grant is about so much more than the physical projects,” says Kendra Witt-Doyle, executive director of the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health.
Across the country, nearly one in three children is overweight or obese, placing them at risk for serious health issues. In conjunction with the High Five Initiative started in 2015, the Community Transformation Grant provided much more than just funding to support change in the communities. It included access to community data, state and national experts, and technical assistance to help guide the process of choosing how and where the funds would be used.
“The exciting thing about this grant and what made it different from most grants that we receive—most grants are very project oriented and projected specific—this grant was really more about collaboration and problem solving,” says Sandpoint City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton. “The funds were really about supporting the efforts that came out of that collaborative and problem-solving discussion.”
In Bonners Ferry, a team of stakeholders representing the foundational areas of the community worked along with the Foundation to research, recommend and fund projects across the city. Their goal was to see these projects and community spirit extend beyond the city limits.
“The goal of the Foundation is to reduce childhood obesity through the form of access to healthy foods and increased activity levels,” says Bonners Ferry City Administrator Lisa Ailport. “How you go about moving the needle on such a goal is not only daunting to undertake, it can also feel paralyzing. However, with the help of the Foundation and the strength of the community, we feel that a valiant effort was made.”
By working together as one voice with a common goal, the Steering Committee was able to leverage an additional $250,000 of funding for projects across Bonners Ferry, adds Ailport, bringing their total funding for the initiative to $500,000. The process represented a fundamental change in the city’s mindset: a transformation within Bonners Ferry to drive change for the community and to take pride in what Bonners Ferry is, and what it can accomplish.
As a result of the funds, a new playground was built in Moyie Springs—a community that previously had to drive 7 miles to access the closest playground. In addition, the funds made it possible to completely renovate the municipal pool; a skating rink was added to the fairgrounds to provide a healthy outlet for winter; trails were added behind the high school; and little free gardens were spread across the city to encourage healthy eating and sustainable growing practices.
“The Foundation and the City want to see children get healthy!” says Ailport. “We want the children of Boundary County to be able to be healthy in a safe and convenient way, and we hope that our projects move us closer toward this goal.”
The Foundation didn’t just provide funds and then step away to let the city figure it out. “This was a funder that was very much at the table, and part of the problem-solving effort,” says Stapleton.
The Pine Street Woods & Nordic Recreation Center was built in partnership with Kaniksu Land Trust and provides a meeting space and equipment for youth classes. Community gardens were established to help kids understand the importance of growing and eating healthy foods, and a local nonprofit now offers free grocery pickup and holds free cooking classes for kids and families.
“I think a milestone is the increased partnership, and that can’t be understated when talking about this program,” explains Stapleton. “This really created a collaborative synergy in a really unique way.”
The partnership of Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint with the Foundation has paved the way to create change in each community that will continue into the future, and provide access and education for children and families to get and stay active and healthy.
“Through the Foundation we have created a relationship built on a common goal, and as we look toward the future, we hope to align projects with our common goal to further the mission,” says Ailport.