While southern West Virginia continues to fare poorly in health rankings, one county is showing small but steady progress.
In 2016, Fayette County ranked No. 49 out of 55 counties (1 being best and 55 being worst) in the County Health Rankings report. But the county is inching up the list — reaching No. 48 in 2017, No. 46 in 2018, and No. 42 this year.
Officials with Active Southern West Virginia, a nonprofit regional initiative aiming to create healthier communities, said they believe their work is paying off.
Active SWV formed in 2015 with a mission to train volunteers called community captains and bring free programming to Fayette, Raleigh, Nicholas and Summers counties.
Fayette County, well-known for its hiking, biking and climbing opportunities, is now playing host to more and more locals, Reid said.
“Local people are seeing those opportunities aren’t just for tourists,” said Erin Reid, volunteer director for Active SWV. “They’re for us, too.”
While Fayette County is the only county in Active SWV’s territory to remain on an upward climb among the overall health rankings, three of Active SWV’s four counties have seen an increase in the percentage of access to exercise opportunities.
In 2016 in Fayette County, 49 percent of residents had “adequate access to locations for physical activity,” according to the County Health Rankings. Now, 62 percent of residents have access. Raleigh County increased from 46 to 62 percent, and Nicholas increased from 45 to 51 percent. Summers, however, saw a small decline, from 55 to 52 percent.
“It’s gratifying to see southern West Virginia have an increase in physical opportunities coordinated with the work of our volunteers,” said Melanie Seiler, executive director of Active SWV. “We have a strong number of volunteers in Fayette and Raleigh counties.”
Reid said their goal is to always increase access to programs and to help eliminate the barriers to physical activity.
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Anyone interested in becoming an Active SWV volunteer is encouraged to attend a training session May 4-5 at the National Park Service headquarters in Glen Jean.
The training, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days, will teach volunteers, free of charge, about leadership, risk management, communication, first aid and more.
After that training, community captains can lead the way for local residents on non-equipment-based activities, such as hikes and walks.
For more advanced programming, like stand-up paddle boarding or Tai Chi, additional training will be required. Those workshops are also free of charge.
Experience is not necessary to become a community captain, Seiler encourages.
“We’re looking for everyday people to lead everyday people.”
Also, a number of local partnerships have been formed to help aid the mission of Active SWV.
Reid and Seiler noted a number of Fayette County partners — New River Health, WVU Extension, Hawks Nest State Park, Babcock State Park, YMCA in Montgomery, and the Town of Gauley Bridge — that have helped pave the way toward physical activity.
“Our reputation has grown enough now that people trust we’ll stay consistent with programming,” Seiler said. “Our volunteers are committed, and our partnerships come easier and easier. We’re thankful for the open doors to these facilities.”
For more information, visit activeswv.org.
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