SNAP-Ed Eastern U.P. LifeSPAN team is helping to get the U.P. active

This article is part of Stories of Change, a series of inspirational articles of the people who deliver evidence-based programs and strategies that empower communities to eat healthy and move more. It is made possible with funding from Michigan Fitness Foundation.

When COVID-19 shutdowns began impacting the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District (EUPISD), the Life Sustaining Physical Activity and Nutrition (LifeSPAN) team found the proverbial silver lining and leveraged it to create opportunities that will benefit their community long after the pandemic has passed.

LifeSPAN is made possible through Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) funding. MFF is a State Implementing Agency of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for the education component of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP-Ed is an education program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that teaches people eligible for SNAP how to live healthier lives. MFF offers grants to conduct SNAP-Ed programming throughout the state of Michigan.

The EUPISD LifeSPAN team collaborates with local partners and community coalitions to increase food access and provide no-cost/low-cost physical activity opportunities. The broader goal is to create sustainable change that supports healthy behaviors through their SNAP-Ed policies, systems, and environmental change (PSE) work across the Eastern Upper Peninsula.

"Our team has personal ties to the community,” says Paula Finfrock, who serves as project director for LifeSPAN. “It makes us even more passionate about what we do since we can connect with our community members on a more intimate level.”

They found that physical activity was brought more to the forefront of community need during the pandemic. Students and community members were not able to go to the gym or attend school, so physical activity decreased for everybody. In collaboration with community partners, the LifeSPAN team focused on ways to get people more active by encouraging physical activity through social media posts and connecting families to various free or low-cost options in the community.
The EUPISD LifeSPAN team collaborated with other area organizations to host a Color Run/Walk last August.
Through strong local partnerships with the Building a Healthy Community Coalition (BHCC) and Sault Ste. Marie Parks and Recreation, collective efforts have ensured that families could engage in outdoor physical activity throughout the pandemic.   

“After seeing the success of a holiday themed scavenger hunt hosted by Sault Ste. Marie Parks and Recreation, we got in touch to work with the parks and rec department, BHCC, and the local business community to plan a week-long Horseshoe Scavenger Hunt on area trails,” shares Finfrock. “They were great. We all came together and had such a great turnout. During that week while it was happening, we noticed it was gaining traction on social media. More of our families indicated they wanted to participate, so we decided to extend the event for the entire month, and it was a huge success.”

Because the event received so much positive feedback, Sault Ste. Marie Parks and Recreation is working on plans to continue hosting seasonal scavenger hunts, like the Horseshoe event. And LifeSPAN is working with partner organizations to expand this kind of event across the regional trail system. From this, they have created new community traditions that will be easy to carry on post-pandemic. Through EUPISD LifeSPAN’s PSE work, they are inspiring active living that creates a culture of health across the region.
 
“Living in the Upper Peninsula, there are a lot of outdoor physical activity opportunities right around the corner. However, we learned that not a lot of people are using them,” Finfrock says. “We also found that, even though we are in the community where these trails and outdoor opportunities are abundant, people didn’t really know where they were located. So, through these events, we are working on letting them know about the community’s outdoor amenities.”
The EUPISD LifeSPAN team collaborated with other area organizations to host a Color Run/Walk last August.
The EUPISD LifeSPAN team also collaborated with the Kinross Township Board, Kinross Parks and Recreation, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians Community Health, and BHCC to promote a 2K/5K Color Run/Walk last August.

“The run was really cool,” said Finfrock. “The Sault Tribe’s Health Education Services covered the registration fees for tribal members, and proceeds from the run/walk supported improvements to the Kinross Rec Center Gymnasium, which is a free community space where families can be active.”

Like the scavenger hunt event, the run/walk was also successful and will continue. By raising an awareness of the 5K route, the collaborative made it easier for the students and families LifeSPAN serves to come together, be active, and become more comfortable using the resources any time, not just during an event.

As the EUPISD LifeSPAN team works to develop partnerships in the region, their PSE work progresses.

“It’s about building relationships and taking the time to really listen to one another to effect meaningful change,” said Finfrock. “Here, we have to take the time to open up and talk. It is a part of our culture to connect and have conversations with our elders, children, and community members. Being from here matters too. We aren’t outsiders coming in. This means people are more apt to open up and have real conversations about what is going on where the families we serve live, eat, work, play, pray, and shop.”

By taking the time to have deep conversations, they have found they are better able to serve the community. In addition to being connected physically as local or regional neighbors, the EUPISD LifeSPAN team is connected culturally. From this work, they are able to build trust, learn more, and are better suited to find ways to break old cycles and inspire healthy living that will resonate.

Photos courtesy of Kinross Rec Center.