Improving the healthy lifestyle landscape in some West Virginia areas might sound like a tough task, but a group of passionate West Virginia University faculty and staff believe the secret lies in empowering communities and providing the support they need to take control of their own health.

Last fall, faculty from WVU Extension Service, WVU College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences , and WVU School of Public Health and West Virginia Prevention Research Center entered into a five-year contractual partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and launched the Be Wild, Be Wonderful, Be Healthy project.

Funded by the CDC’s High Obesity Program, Be Wild, Be Wonderful, Be Healthy is a community-based project that aims to create local solutions to our state’s health-related challenges by supporting projects in Clay and McDowell counties that increase access to physical activity and healthy foods. Since launching, the project team has been working with communities in these counties to identify local resources, build connections and give community members a voice.

One of the most unique aspects of the Be Healthy project is how they’re working to engage and support these communities and their key organizations. This spring, community organizations were asked to submit proposals for funding through contractual partnerships with the Be Healthy leadership team.

Eighteen organizations across the two counties that are focused on improving access to healthy foods and physical activity in innovative ways have been selected to receive funding. These partnerships allow the project to expand its reach, gain a deeper connection to the communities and create sustainability.

“We look forward to seeing the unique ways community organizations in Clay and McDowell counties work to create opportunities for their residents to be more active and make healthier food choices,” said Kerry Gabbert, project coordinator for Be Wild, Be Wonderful, Be Healthy. “Each community has its own set of challenges, and our contractual partners have creative, strategic plans to move their communities forward and overcome some of those challenges.”

The organizations in Clay County that have been awarded funding include Clay County Business Development Authority; Clay County Board of Health; Clay County Family Resource Network; Lizemore Elementary School; Clay County Housing Authority; H.E. White Elementary School; Clay County Parents as Teachers; and Risen Lord Catholic Church.

In McDowell County, the partners receiving funds consist of West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition; Big Creek People in Action; Coalfield Community Action Group; Council of the Southern Mountains, Inc.; McDowell FACES Family Resource Network; Grayhound Youth Sports; Reconnecting McDowell; Five Loaves and Two Fishes; McDowell Commission on Aging; and Mountain Heart.

The WVU Extension Service agents in each county have been working closely with the project to help the team bridge gaps and connect with the right people in each of the communities.

“We have amazing people in our counties who have come up with some incredibly innovative and fun ways to get people moving and make sure we all have access to healthy foods,” said Ami Cook, WVU Extension Service agent in Clay County. “I’m so excited to work with these people to help shape a healthier future for Clay County’s current residents, as well as future generations.”

To keep up with the Be Wild, Be Wonderful, Be Healthy project, follow @behealthywv on Facebook and Instagram. The project team encourages everyone to use #BeHealthyWV to interact and connect with others involved in the project on social media.