The Blue Zone Project in Douglas County was the topic of a radio interview recently on News Radio 1240 KQEN’s Talking Health Program.
The Blue Zones Umpqua is a community-wide, well-being improvement initiative to help county residents make healthy choices.
People throughout the world who live in areas that are defined as Blue Zones live longer and healthier lives, and experience less chronic disease, including fewer cancers and brain diseases, like dementia.
Bringing the concept of Blue Zones communities to our community is a step forward in improving the health and wellness of all of our citizens.
Newly hired Blue Zones Umpqua staff, Juliete Palenshus and Jessica Moore recently spoke with Mercy’s Talking Health on News Radio 1240 KQEN with host Lisa Platt about the launch of Blue Zones Umpqua. Juliete is the engagement lead and Jessica is the community program manager for the project.
The following is an edited version of their interview.
Lisa: Jessica, can you tell us about our being selected as a Blue Zones Demonstration community?
Jessica: Being a Blue Zones Projects Demonstration Community means we’re going to be working with schools, work sites, grocery stores, and faith-based communities.
We want to take the principals that were learned and studied and researched from those Blue Zones communities around the world and bring them to our community. These principals are a great way to engage individuals who want to try out lifestyle behaviors and patterns so that they themselves can live longer and healthier lives.
Lisa: How many Oregon communities are Blue Zones demonstration communities?
Jessica: Roseburg just joined as the fourth. Klamath Falls was the first.
Because of the success of Blue Zones initiatives in Klamath Falls, Cambia Health Foundation decided to expand this work, and Roseburg, The Dalles and Grants Pass were selected.
Lisa: Are there Blue Zones demonstrations all over the United States?
Jessica: There are 42 demonstration communities across nine states.
Lisa: Can you share who the other BZ team members are?
Jessica: Besides Juliete and myself, we have John Dimof, who will be the organization lead, and Kirk Blaine, the project manager.
John, in his role as the organizational lead, is going to be engaging across multiple sectors, so he is the one who will be working with our work sites to help these settings be places where people can actually thrive and adopt some of the best practices we know, which will enhance their overall health and well-being.
Kirk has a background in business administration and forestry, so he can relate to many of our local industries. It will be his goal as project manager to keep us on target, showcasing the success of the program and keeping us on target with our operations and metrics that we will be reporting.
Lisa: Juliete, what is your role as the engagement lead?
Juliet: I’ll be driving the communication efforts for the initiative and managing some of the activities to help inspire individuals to take advantage of the Blue Zones Umpqua project, practices and resources. I will also be building on my own knowledge of the community’s existing health and well-being components and sharing this information through different avenues. I will be working to get the word out and trying to get people engaged to take advantage of this awesome opportunity.
Lisa: And Jessica, your role as the community program manager?
Jessica: I’ll be overseeing and managing the execution of the project here locally, but I’ll also be working closely with our champions, our leaders, and our volunteers to make sure the priorities of the community continue to be carried out in a successful level.
Lisa: Would you talk about the process of becoming a demonstration community?
Jessica: The local volunteer group that submitted the application had representatives from all over our community and included philanthropy groups, health and medical leadership groups that were really dedicated to doing more for our community’s health and healing following the shooting at UCC in 2015.
Juliete: To become a Blue Zones Demonstration Community, the community has to exhibit both a need and receptivity, and openness to change. As a community we experienced a traumatic event, and out of that event a lot of positive efforts manifested, so this designation will allow us to multiply those efforts in a way that will help us thrive as a community.
Unfortunately, we rank very low in overall health in comparison to other counties in Oregon, and we see a lot of chronic illnesses throughout the local community, so this is also an opportunity to help improve the health and well-being of our own community members.
Lisa: For this upcoming year, what can we expect?
Jessica: We’re in the discovery process, and we’re getting a baseline measurement of what the state of well-being looks like to the people who live here in the Umpqua region.
You might receive a survey in the mail called the Well-being Share-care index. That’s really getting a measurement of what we’re doing well in, and some areas for improvement too.
We’re going to be launching into some policy summits where we’ll bring in nationally recognized experts to our community to talk about various areas of policy.
Those summits will be coming up this fall. We are also just wrapping up one-on-one interviews with a lot of community stakeholders and leaders, too. The focus is on what they feel our priorities should be.
This will all lead up to our kick-off event, which will be sometime in October or November, and we’ll set out what our blueprint is for what we’re going to focus on for the next few years.
Juliete: Individual, work site and business pledges are a part of that too. These pledges consist of evidence-based practices from around the country that help nudge people toward healthier choices where they spend the most time. So just getting that word out and getting people involved and participating is how we’ll start the initiative after we complete the discovery phase.
There will be an active outreach to the community to get people involved, but for anyone who wants to be on the forefront of the movement and get a head-start, and they can contact us at oregon.bluezonesproject.com.
The Facebook page is probably the best way to stay up to date on the new activities. That’s facebook.com/BlueZonesProjectUmpqua/.
Our office is downtown at 566 S.E. Jackson Street and we’d love to have visitors.
Lisa: What are the goals of the summit?
Juliete: There are various summits on policy, and we focus on food policy, the built environment and tobacco or smoking.
The food policy is coming up next on Sept. 14, and we’ll be bringing experts to share about best practices in their areas. For the food policy, Maggie Adamack will come and share. She is nationally renowned in that field, and it’ll be a wonderful experience for us to learn from.
Then, on Sept. 27, is the built environment summit. It’s one that people might not be familiar with, but it talks about how to make streets complete and accessible to all modes of travel including bicyclists and pedestrians. Dan Burden is so knowledgeable about built environment and complete streets, and how to make small and affordable changes in the community to make things more available for all walks of life.
Next we have John Killingsworth coming on Oct. 10 for the tobacco or smoke-free police summit. We really hope that people who have an interest or any expertise in those areas will make it a priority to come.
Lisa: And you have a steering committee?
Jessica: We’re forming our steering committee. This committee will be very influential in how we set up our blueprint for the next few years and what the priorities will be.
The committee consists of our mayor, our city manager, CEOs and presidents from some of our largest employers in the area, but also grassroots representations too.