Over 400 registered for Try This WV Conference

June 3, 2015
By Dave Lavender

HUNTINGTON – Scroll over the Try This West Virginia website and good ideas pop out at you, as does the information to make these things happen where you live, on your block in your neck of the Mountain State woods.

Want to start a community garden or advocate for everyday recess or encourage breastfeeding, put up bike racks, start a running group or create active summer programs?

Everything you ever wanted to know about doing those 85 different projects is found on the web site in what director Kate Long calls “a feast of affordable, do-able ideas.”

To help further fuel an even greater grassroots fire for making positive healthy changes in West Virginia, Try This West Virginia is hosting its second annual conference Friday and Saturday, June 5-6 on the campus of West Virginia Wesleyan in Buckhannon.

More than 400 people are pre-registered for the conference that will feature 40 breakout sessions (on everything from farmers markets and school gardens to bicycling and running programs), dozens of exhibitors, lots of health breaks for yoga, runs and exercise, as well as a keynote speech by Huntington Mayor Steve Williams.

Cost is $150 for the two days, and there are scholarships available for youth and adults. Go online at www.trythiswv.com/conference for more info.

Formed about 18 months ago, Try West Virginia is funded by The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, WV Office of Child Nutrition, WV Bureau of Public Health, Unicare Health Plan of WV, The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, The Bernard McDonough Foundation, Sisters of St. Joseph and Generous Promise Grant.

The purpose of the statewide coalition of about 20 groups is to promote healthy lifestyles and communities throughout West Virginia.

“We got up to speed very quickly as a state level organization because we are a coalition of 20 groups that already had their wheels rolling,” Long said.

Those rolling wheels gathered a near Cass collection of steam at last year’s conference. Long said last year’s gathering drew more than 400 people to see 98 presenters in 30 different workshops, and really sparked a sense of pride and renewed spirits as folks from around the state got to see some of the fruits of the Try This minigrants.

In 2014, $82,000 in minigrants went to 42 different community teams from around the state that used the minigrants to help fuel positive change. Two of those grants were in Cabell County including the Fairfield Community Foodshare Project that helped build five community gardens created on vacant Huntington lots donated to the Build It Up! program by Huntington’s Land Bank Program (HURA), and Try This Huntington (Cabell) that launched an effort to increase physical activity in the area for young families through zumba classes for adults and children, Mommy and Me Yoga, Supper in a Sack-Budgeting and Healthy Meal Preparation workshops, water aerobics classes, couponing and homemade baby food events.

Long said the laid-back conference of all the different folks digging in and making a difference is electrifying.

“Last year at our first conference we had 400 people yelling our slogan, ‘It is up to us,'” Long said. “They yelled it enthusiastically. They know the state is not going to come down and hit them with a magic wand and the feds are not going to. We need help from the state and the feds but we are the ones who can start a running club, we can make a school-based health center. We can take all of these steps that add up to a healthy community.”

Long said to help folks network year-round and create more change more quickly, the website is packed with great ideas and homegrown connections and ways to make them happen where you live.

“The website gives people a menu of what is possible because a lot of people would like to create a healthier community but they don’t know what to do,” Long said. “… There are hundreds of pictures on the website so when you go through it you get a wide variety of possibilities to choose from and when you choose something it gives you an array of resources that tell you how to do it. You can’t go through that website without feeling proud of all of these efforts these West Virginians are trying to do about our situation.”

The keynote speaker for the conference is Huntington mayor Steve Williams.

“It might seem odd at first glance for us to ask the mayor of Huntington to be our keynoter because Huntington has received a lot of press for having a lot of alarming chronic disease rates and topping a lot of the worst health lists but what better person when you look and see all of the efforts being made in Huntington to rebound and to come up,” Long said. “Huntington is the underdog, and we love the underdog especially when the underdog is making great efforts. When I started looking at what all Huntington is doing on every front I was amazed.”

Long said it was Try This’ continued efforts to shine a light on best practices for healthy living initiatives that she kept running into Huntington’s full-blown healthy living revival through such projects as the PATH (Paul Ambrose Trail for Health), Huntington’s Kitchen, The Wild Ramp, Create Huntington and the Chat ‘n’ Chews, Critical Mass, SCRATCH (after-school gardening program through West Virginia State University), Burrito Riders, the Litter Gitters, the Greater Huntington Parks and Recreation District, the healthy lunch initiatives in Cabell County Schools, and many more.

One of the several sessions featuring Huntington will be “Creating Huntington: After Jamie Oliver” featuring folks from the city of Huntington, Huntington’s Kitchen, Cabell County Schools and other entities.

“The list is just endless,” Long said. “Huntington is laced through the Try This West Virginia site. When I stated looking for examples I always ran into Huntington so I say what better person to have as our keynoter than this mayor. He is genuine, he is enthusiastic and I can’t wait to hear what he has to say. For the healthy organizations in Huntington it was like you had a marching band going down the street and along comes a great drum major.”

Long said whether it is from the conference or from folks checking out the website and then teaming up with other local organizations to start a healthy program in their neighborhood, school or area, Try This is all about trying to work to make West Virginia holistically healthier and happier.

“As we develop more fit younger generations those chronic disease rates will come down and part of it is believing that it is possible, and part of what we want to do is to really beat the drum and to change perception,” Long said. “I don’t mean creating a false image but letting people know what is really happening across West Virginia and that we are moving in a good direction and we want them to want to join in.”