The new year always brings good news.
Blue Zones Project — Umpqua announced Thursday that it graduated from being a “demonstration community” to a fully “certified community,” joining just a handful of other communities across North America.
The certification came after a national review team conducted an assessment with community stakeholders in October and November and reviewed the project’s objectives. After verifying that the local chapter had successfully completed its goals — which included engaging residents, working with large organizations to become Blue Zones approved, and passing several environmental and health-conscious policies — the national review team awarded Blue Zones Project — Umpqua with certification.
Juliete Palenshus, the project’s local community engagement director, said the certification will likely make it easier for their organization to secure future grants.
“Becoming certified gives us another opportunity to share the impressive outcomes of the project and hopefully generate more interest from those that have yet to engage,” she said. “For our entire community, we hope this is a sense of pride; something positive, that’s only been achieved by a handful of other communities across the country.”
Additionally, the area’s largest employers have said the Blue Zones certification has been advantageous in employee recruitment, something that can be a struggle in rural communities, Palenshus said.
Local leaders have been working to achieve certification since 2017 by reaching targets set to influence the health and well-being of residents.
The community has undergone a neighborhood-by-neighborhood transformation, exceeding targets set to engage individuals and organizations while implementing best practices in city policy changes, Palenshus said.
Blue Zones Project — Umpqua set out to engage 6,300 residents, get half of the area’s largest employers Blue Zones approved, and pass nearly 20 environmental, food and health-related policies. As a result, Palenshus highlighted a number of areas that have improved under the project’s watch:
The number of businesses in downtown Roseburg increased by 20% since 2017, from 180 to 196 in 2020, and that $2.7 million were invested into the area through urban renewal funds.
Food insecurity among adults in Douglas County decreased 8% between 2017 and 2019, according to data collected by Feeding America. Meanwhile, food insecurity among children decreased by nearly 20%.
The percentage of 11th grade students at a healthy weight increased from 60.9% in 2017 to 64.8% in 2019.
And finally, nine new smoke-free areas were created in Roseburg, increasing from 24 in 2017 to 33 in 2020.
“While this Blue Zones Certification achievement has required tremendous effort and resiliency throughout the community, the policies and programs implemented in our area will have a permanent impact on the quality of life enjoyed by all of its residents, and we applaud them for their dedication,” said Lance Colley, the steering committee chair for Blue Zones Project Umpqua and former city manager for the City of Roseburg.
Palenshus said the area has improved in well-being metrics tracked by the Sharecare Community Well-Being Index. The overall index score for the area held steady during 2019, she said, while the overall score for the United States decline.
Additionally, residents engaged in the Blue Zones Project are far less likely to smoke, less likely to be overweight or obese, more likely to exercise regularly, and more likely to eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables compared to residents who are not, she said.
The project will continue to promote healthy living and push to change city policy in upcoming years by utilizing more than $6 million in grant funding, including $4.2 million for Safe Routes to School improvements, $275,000 to improve food security, and $100,000 in a transportation growth management bike route plan.
“With a strong focus on well-being improvement throughout the community, our region has proven it is dedicated to the health of its residents and the long-term economic and social vitality of the community,” said Jessica Hand, the executive director of Blue Zones Project Umpqua. “With sustained momentum and advancement of the project in key areas, we believe Umpqua will drive even greater improvements to community well-being in the next phase of work.”