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Hundreds gathering to ‘knock West Virginia off the top of the worst health lists’

Organizers: Economic development issue as much as a health issue

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. — West Virginians from all over the state will converge on West Virginia Wesleyan Friday and Saturday for the second annual “Try This conference.”


The goal is knocking the West Virginia off the top of the worst health lists. Those gathering are also coming to learn ways to create affordable projects that build healthier communities.

“We’re on top of the worst health lists, but we don’t have to stay there,” said Kate Long, Try This co-director. “West Virginians all over the state are creating wonderful local projects. We’re bringing them together to join forces and learn from each other.”  Their motto: It’s up to us.The state’s alarming health statistics drive the effort, she said.

— One in four WV 11-year-olds already have high blood pressure, according to WVU’s CARDIAC program.  Nearly one in three are obese, at high risk of future heart disease or diabetes.

—  Seven out of 10 state health dollars are spent treating diseases that can be prevented by more physical activity and less processed food, according to a legislative report.”It’s a no-brainer to start preventing those diseases,” said Jamie Jeffrey, MD, director or KEYS 4 HealthyKids, a Try This partner. “That’s why we’re doing this. Too many of our kids are at high risk of future heart disease or diabetes, and we can prevent that.”

Funded by the Benedum Foundation and a half dozen other funders, Try This is an 18-month-old coalition of 18 government and private organizations, including the state Office of Child Nutrition, WV Healthy Kids and Families, the WV Food and Farm Coalition, the state Bureau for Public Health, WVU Extension Service, the Council of Churches, KEYS for HeathyKids, the West Virginia Community Development Hub and others.

If the next generation is healthier, Jeffrey noted, the workforce will be healthier and Medicaid costs will shrink. “It’s an economic development issue as much as it is a health issue,” she said. “Companies and people like to come to places that have things like running and biking clubs, farmers markets, community gardens.”

At the conference, attendees will choose from 40 “how-to” workshops, ranging from farmers markets to biking programs, from school-based health centers, from school-based health centers to children’s gardening programs. More than 100 presenters are donating services. They are West Virginians who have created remarkable projects in their communities, mixed with state-level experts.

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams will deliver the keynote address.  He is leading a city-wide campaign to reverse Huntington’s alarming chronic disease numbers. His theme: Turning hopelessness into hope, taking action on many fronts

For a list of workshops and presenters, see

“It’s West Virginians who know how to do healthy community projects connecting with West Virginians who want to learn how,” said Bekki Leigh, who coordinates Farm to School for the state Office of Child Nutrition.The conference is one part of the year-round Try This program.

“We provide workshops and community coaching year-round,” said Stephen Smith, Try This co-director. In 2014, Try This awarded $82,000 to 42 community teams from all parts of the state.
“We promote leadership, collaboration, and long-term planning,” said Smith.  “Most of our 2014 teams are returning for a second round.  About 50 teams are already registered.”To find minigrant teams in your area, see the list of projects (

Try This directors expect to award a similar amount this year, Smith said. Each community team is assigned a state-level helper, who helps them find ways to leverage their small grant into other donations, resources and volunteers. “Don’t believe anybody who tells you West Virginians are fatalistic. It is downright amazing what West Virginians can do with a relatively small amount of money,” he said.

The Try This Web site,, profiles hundreds of affordable projects communities can choose from, with “how-to” resources and West Virginia models.

See for the conference schedule and list of workshops.

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