It takes a team to build a healthier community, but it begins with the individual. As each of us becomes aware of the importance of a healthy lifestyle and starts to make changes to get there, we inspire others to want the same. Good health is contagious! This is not to say change is easy, it’s not. But it is possible, especially when everyone in the village joins in. What can you do to be a champion for health in your community?
At the end of each school day, carpool lines can stretch out like a trail of ants inching toward a tasty picnic.
That is what Maitland and Winter Park moms Michelle Sartor, Jody Lazar and Jeanie Redmon saw at Dommerich Elementary and Maitland Middle schools some six years ago. And that’s what got them thinking.
What if there was a way to inspire kids to walk and bicycle to school instead of riding in a car? This would mean kids getting more exercise and there would be fewer cars spewing fumes that pollute the air. And, it would mean more parents getting exercise if they chose to walk and bike to school with their children.
It would also help prime the young brains for a productive day at school.
Inspired, they got to work and came up with Walk ‘N Roll—a program that promotes walking and biking to school, and doing it safely.
Launched in 2008, the program captured attention all around. When the Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF) hosted a workshop–How to Help Kids Walk and Bike to School Safely—and included experts at the national and state level, they also asked the three Walk ‘N Roll founders to make a presentation on how they put their program together.
Since then, they have been called on to make other Walk ‘N Roll presentations in the community, including at the Healthy Central Florida “Walk and Bike to School Workshop” held at the beginning of the 2013-13 school year. (HCF is a community-based initiative founded by the WPHF and Florida Hospital to help create the healthiest community in the nation.)
The free workshop, aimed at Winter Park Consortium schools, drew nearly 40 teachers, principals, law enforcement officers, city officials, concerned parents and school board representatives. Schools attending had a chance to apply for HCF mini-grants to support their own Walk ‘N Roll programs.
All of the eligible schools—Aloma, Audubon Park, Brookshire, Cheney, Dommerich, Hungerford, Lake Sybelia and Lakemont elementary schools as well as Glenridge and Maitland middle schools—received grants to help support the program at their schools.
And Walk ‘N Roll became a model for schools throughout Orange County. Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) has endorsed the program for use by all schools in the district.
Today Dommerich and Maitland Middle schools’ programs are flourishing, as are those at other schools, and Ms. Sartor says this wouldn’t have been possible without support she and the other moms received, from the schools’ PTAs, the WPHF, the Florida Department of Transportation, Maitland and Winter Park city council members and parks and recreation departments, local police, school principals and the parents of their students. And there are many more. It took the entire village.
While the moms are no longer directly involved with school programs because their children have grown and are entering high school, Ms. Sartor says she is always moved when she drives through her Maitland neighborhoods and sees how many children are out riding and walking on the way to school.
“When I see these cute kids commuting to Dommerich, it warms my heart,” she said. “I think that’s what we did!”