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Health forum brought leaders together

Community leaders and elected officials are working together to improve the health of Franklinton and Washington Parish residents.

Louisiana State Sen. Beth Mizell and the LSU AgCenter SNAP-Ed program hosted the Franklinton Community Forum on Jan. 29 at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Franklinton. Mizell and the AgCenter have partnered to address issues facing Franklinton, a town of about 3,700 residents.

Valerie Vincent, AgCenter family and consumer sciences regional coordinator, welcomed the group with a community puzzle activity. Each community member in attendance was able to identify a piece of the community puzzle that they can fill.

Mizell shared her vision for a healthier Franklinton and explored how to accomplish that goal.

“We all agree that we have people here that some of us have never seen before, who all have the ability to engage new resources and bring new attitudes to right the problems of good nutrition in Washington Parish,” she said. “We have to connect people to the resources that can give them good options.”

Mizell said a lot of work needs to be done, stressing that there are no parks or walking trails in Franklinton.

Through the community forum, AgCenter facilitators Matt Greene and Vincent solicited ideas from the group of 59 elected officials and residents.

Participants were asked to brainstorm and share their ideas on future visions for the town.

State Rep. Malinda White told the group that a lack of communication is a huge concern when it comes to what’s already available.

“I think what we’re doing is building coalitions and connecting the dots,” she said. “Many of the residents don’t realize that the Louisiana Transit System is available to everyone. They just assume that it’s only available to our senior citizens.”

Dr. Gina Payton Lagarde, regional medical director of the Office of Health in the Louisiana Department of Health, said people must understand what affects their health.

“We can’t be afraid to identify what the challenges are, and we can’t be afraid to address it,” she said. “There are a lot of resources here, and not all resources require a lot of money.”

Jim Carlson, vice chancellor of strategic initiatives and external affairs at Northshore Technical Community College, said a number of after-hours programs are available in the area.

“We have a lot of the resources that they are looking for with adult education,” he said. “We’re a college they can go to and get both technical as well as academic training here in the parish.”

The community forum allows participants to identify potential policy, systems and environmental changes to improve the nutrition and physical activity environment in their communities, Vincent said.

The goals of the forum were to identify community members’ priorities for changes that will promote a healthier community and to develop an active coalition of community members who are engaged in implementing strategies for community-wide change, she said.

“We currently rank 61st for length of life and 58th for health outcomes,” Vincent said of Washington Parish. “A healthy community is one where individuals and families are physically and emotionally well and have lower rates of diabetes and other health concerns related to poor diets and lack of activity.”

Working closely together to solve these issues helps create a more relevant workforce that is better skilled and more effective in meeting diverse community needs, she said.

“We now have the list of challenges that residents see as priority items that need to be addressed to help make Franklinton a healthier community,” said Christi Mitchell, AgCenter nutrition educator.

Follow-up community workgroups are being formed, and residents will work alongside Mizell and AgCenter staff with the goal of creating a healthy community coalition for Franklinton, Vincent said.

“It is becoming more and more evident that we must work collaboratively if we are to effectively address the needs and concerns in our community. And this forum was a first step to bringing together the amazing resources that already exist in Franklinton as well as identify and develop ideas for future growth,” Vincent said.