Wholespire Richland County Joins Healthy People, Healthy Carolinas

Wholespire Richland County Joins Healthy People, Healthy Carolinas

Four new South Carolina community coalitions, including Wholespire Richland County, have joined Healthy People, Healthy Carolinas (HPHC), an initiative of The Duke Endowment to help address chronic health issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Each community will receive financial assistance from The Duke Endowment and technical support from the South Carolina Hospital Association and the South Carolina Office of Rural Health. The coalitions will serve to strengthen local infrastructure and community engagement to measurably improve population health around chronic prevention issues like unhealthy weight, diabetes, and heart disease. 

“We are beyond excited for Wholespire Richland County, the communities it serves and the possibilities this substantial funding will support,” said Meg Stanley, executive director at Wholespire. “Co-Chairs Robin Cooper and Wanda Austin have done an incredible job navigating through the challenges coalitions often face and positioning the chapter for success.”

In the HPHC model, diverse community organizations collaborate to address systemic conditions that have led to poor health outcomes by implementing evidence-based interventions and sustaining them through policy, systems, and environmental changes. At the end of a one-year readiness phase, each coalition can reapply for up to five more years of funding to support implementation and policy change.

New Data Reveals Decline in Health of South Carolina’s Children During COVID-19 Pandemic, Disproportionate Effects Noted on Minority Populations

New Data Reveals Decline in Health of South Carolina’s Children During COVID-19 Pandemic, Disproportionate Effects Noted on Minority Populations

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), in partnership with the University of South Carolina and the BlueCross® BlueShield® of South Carolina Foundation, has released a new SC FitnessGram data report, revealing a steady decline in student health throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SC FitnessGram assessment is a comprehensive physical fitness test that evaluates various components of fitness, including aerobic capacity, muscular strength, flexibility, and body composition. The test is administered by school PE teachers in grades 2, 5, 8, and high school in participating schools across South Carolina. 

In keeping with the declines in health noted in the study, participation in the study also declined from 64 districts in 2018-19 to just 52 in 2020-21, and of those 52 districts, only 21 districts had high-enough student participation data to be considered responsive. This study reflects data from those districts, which represent 48,154 students, 58% of whom qualify as living in poverty according to the U.S. Census Bureau

The report shows the percentage of children in the “Healthy Weight Category” decreased from 65% pre-pandemic to 59% post-pandemic, and the percentage of students in the “Healthy Fitness Zone” for cardiorespiratory fitness (i.e., heart and lung function) declined from 60% pre-pandemic to 51% post-pandemic. 

There were also several disparities present in the data:

  • A disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic children scored lower on all testing than their White peers;
  • Students living in poverty are less likely to achieve the Healthy Fitness Zone; and
  • The percentage of students in the Healthy Fitness Zone decreases from elementary to middle to high school.

“This stark decline when students are not in the school setting, particularly for marginalized populations, proves that students are much more physically active when attending school in person,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC public health director. “These numbers show us just how important the role of public schools is to our children’s overall health, and schools should continue to promote physical activity before, during, and after school. We have a lot of ground to make up.”

Dr. Russ Pate of the USC Arnold School of Public Health and his team at the Children’s Physical Activity Research Group has been analyzing the SC FitnessGram data since its inception in 2014 and producing statewide reports of the data annually.

“These findings add to the growing body of evidence showing that the COVID pandemic harmed children’s health by depriving them of the physical activity that they normally receive in the school setting,” Pate said

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, healthy children are less likely to develop chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease at a young age. The health of children also has a direct impact on academic capabilities. Children who are within a healthy weight range tend to have better memory, attention spans and self-esteem compared to those who are overweight or obese. 

Breonna Mealing, SC FitnessGram Coordinator, said the connection of childhood health to the workforce of tomorrow can’t be underestimated.

“Even within the Career and Technical Education offerings for South Carolina students, there are many jobs that require physical fitness such as construction, the military, manufacturing, transportation and corrections,” Mealing said. “While offering these pathways to our students is important, equally as important is ensuring students are physically capable to take on those jobs once they graduate.”  

The critical data SC FitnessGram produces each year is used to support programs and policies in public schools that will improve the health of our children. However, schools alone cannot bear all of the burden. 

“We are calling on not only schools, but community organizations, parents, community members, and students themselves to play a role in the movement for daily physical activity,” Mealing said. “Not everyone can do everything, but everyone can do something.” 

Visit SC FitnessGram at scdhec.gov/fitnessgram for the full data report and summary and to learn more about how you can support the movement to support students’ health from head to heart.

Navigating active transportation and recreation challenges in South Carolina

Navigating active transportation and recreation challenges in South Carolina

Representatives from five communities at the Walkability Action Institute.

South Carolina’s picturesque landscapes, historic charm, and vibrant communities have long attracted residents and visitors alike. However, beneath the surface of this Southern gem lies a set of walkability challenges that impact both rural and urban areas.

Five cross-disciplinary teams representing rural communities in South Carolina were recruited to address walkability and movability with the help of national and state experts. The two-day National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD) Walkability Action Institute course focused on community and transportation design. Teams entered the training with the commitment to create action plans, participate in multiple virtual follow-up classes and implement action plans without any dedicated national or state funding for the time being.

“With NACDD guidance, the teams were intentionally made up of public health, planning, transportation, elected officials and other community members to help them understand that it takes more than just one department to successfully implement changes,” said Meg Stanley, executive director at Wholespire. “Cross-disciplinary teams also gain a greater understanding of how to leverage their resources to create a more liveable, sustainable and inclusive environment.”

Participants representing Anderson, Fairfield, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties and the cities of West Columbia and Cayce got hands-on training after their lectures and small group discussions. They performed a walkability assessment in downtown Spartanburg and found out that even the best laid out plans may not be the best. During the assessment, they discovered that when crossing roads, a vision-impaired individual is led into traffic and not toward the crosswalk because the crosswalk ramps with bumps or ridges are not always placed in the correct direction. Another learning point that was observed is that the sidewalks are wide enough for a person in a wheelchair and another individual to move comfortably side-by-side.

Participants conduct an assessment of downtown Spartanburg.

“As people who use cars for transportation, many of us take for granted the ease of access to parks, school, the office, the grocery store and many other places we visit. When we are planning projects, we must stop and think about those of us who may only depend on wheelchairs, bicycles, walking or other modes of transportation. An even smarter thing to do is have a conversation with those people and ask about barriers to getting from point A to point B,” said Stanley.

Walkability refers to the measure of how friendly an area or neighborhood is for walking. It takes into account various factors that influence the ease and safety of walking as a mode of transportation and a way to access amenities, services, and recreational areas. Walkable communities are designed to promote pedestrian activity, reduce dependence on cars, and enhance overall quality of life.

The South Carolina State Team
First Row (l-r): Landon Campbell (SCDHEC), Lori Phillips (SCDHEC), Kelsey Sanders (Wholespire)
Second Row (l-r): Torri Toland (SCDHEC), Meg Stanley (Wholespire), Kaylin Garst (YMCA), Sara Griffin (Clemson University)
Third Row (l-r): Guillermo Espinosa (SCDOT), Ken Harvin (SCACED), Amy Ely Johnson (Palmetto Cycling Coalition), Paola Gutierrez (SCORH)

The five community teams meet virtually on a recurring basis to learn from national experts about topics related to movability and to seek guidance from the state team and each other on action planning, potential new team member recruitment, and project implementation. All five teams have developed action plans as described below.

The Georgetown County team wants to improve safe access to all schools in the Town of Andrews and add a bike lane shoulder along Plantersville Scenic Highway. They’re working to establish a partnership with Safe Routes to School, collect traffic and pedestrian data, install crosswalks and improve lighting and sidewalks around schools, and create a temporary shoulder until SCDOT can construct a permanent one.

The Anderson County team plans on implementing a trail connecting the Town of Williamston to the Town of Pelzer. Another goal is to work on a joint cycling and pedestrian trail initiative between the county and City of Anderson. They will also participate in local meetings to include walkability, cycling and pedestrian characteristics in the transportation section of the Anderson County 2026 Comprehensive Plan.

The Fairfield County team is working in the Town of Winnsboro to update town ordinances related to downtown revitalization and walkability. Specifically, they want zoning ordinances for outdoor dining to be amended to create vibrant public spaces and squares that encourage social interaction and community engagement. They also want to improve the safety and walkability in the Mount Zion community by converting large shoulders to walking paths/bike lanes, creating a walking path cut-through from Zion Hill to Fortune Springs Park, and installing a covered bus stop.

In West Columbia and Cayce, the team wants to create a safe and inclusive walk/bike Arts District Loop that connects West Columbia and Cayce using Savage Craft and Steel Hands Breweries as anchors to increase active tourism and improve connectivity for lower-income and historically Black areas to access everyday destinations and opportunities.

The Williamsburg County team is focusing its action plan on the Town of Lane. They want to create an advisory committee to increase public awareness of walkability and mobility and educate the community and stakeholders on the importance of accessibility for all residents. They also want to assess the current need for accessible walking and bike trails for all residents and work with the appropriate partners to establish walkable and accessible pedestrian routes.

Incorporating these strategies into community and transportation design can enhance the quality of life for all residents, promote healthier and more sustainable lifestyles, help the local economy, and create vibrant, inclusive communities. Through a partnership with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, Wholespire was honored to assist and participate in presenting the NACDD Walkability Action Institute.

Community engagement is core to Knights Hill community success

Community engagement is core to Knights Hill community success

Historically, many Black communities have faced disparities in access to recreational facilities and resources. In Camden, South Carolina, the Knights Hill Historic Preservation Board is doing something about that with the help of their community and funders like Wholespire.

In 1900, Knights Hill Park was deeded to a group of community organizers in the Knights Hill community, a residential area with their own unique character and community dynamics. The park became a centralized location for community events, celebrations, family gatherings, and outdoor recreation. It was a time when families and neighbors cherished fellowship by gathering outdoors to enjoy each other, share stories, exchange ideas, escape their problems, laugh, and play outside.

Over the years, Knights Hill Park was in disarray due to a lack of maintenance and a misunderstanding about who was responsible for the upkeep of the park. The Knights Hill community wanted something to be done about their neighborhood retreat. They wanted a safe place for seniors and youth to engage in physical activity and fellowship but couldn’t understand why their requests for maintenance were not being heard by the county.

Returning to where it all began

Bill Robinson, executive director of Knights Hill Historic Preservation Board
Bill Robinson, executive director of Knights Hill Historic Preservation Board, and his canine companion at the park. (Photo: Chronicle-Independent)

Bill Robinson is a descendant of the Knights Hill community who has the skills and knowledge to help get the park revitalization project going. His parents were born and raised there, and he visited Knights Hill on many occasions during his childhood. Bill eventually returned to Camden to help his sister make improvements to his father’s house following his death.   

“People noticed that I was in the community and because my parents are both originally from this community, they knew me from years of coming down from Long Island where I grew up. They asked me to attend a meeting last year, which happened to be a board meeting, and raise some funds to do some upgrades to the park,” said Robinson.

The group explained to Robinson that they had been asking Kershaw County Parks and Recreation for some upgrades for years, and they were wondering why there was no response. Because he has experience as a fundraising and non-profit consultant, Robinson did some research and uncovered a couple of things. First, the original group lost its standing with the state as a non-profit due to some administrative errors. Most importantly, there was an agreement with the Parks and Recreation Department to list the park as part of the county park service and they would do what they could to help, but the agreement did not include maintenance of the park.

Robinson devoted time to correcting the non-profit status and the group renamed themselves to Knights Hill Historic Preservation Board. He also needed to start the process of renegotiating the agreement with the county, but the Board had one more request. They asked him to be their executive director, but they couldn’t pay him.

“They proposed for any funds that I raise to include an administrator fee for me, and I said sure. It was important to me because for me it was full circle. This was a part of the legacy of my family on both sides who grew up in this community, went to school in this community and were active in this park in this community. So, for me, it was like this is the least I could do. And now that both my parents are gone, I could provide this service and keep this legacy going. That’s how it all began,” said Robinson.

Building credibility through awareness and relationships

cleaning up debris
Kershaw County Parks and Recreation helps clear debris.

While waiting for their non-profit application to be approved, Robinson continued doing more groundwork to get the organization and their park improvement project positioned for success. He connected with some key partners like Kershaw County Parks and Recreation to reintroduce them to Knights Hill Park and revisit the initial agreement.

“We engaged in a two-pronged approach. One, to get outside funding to prove to the county that we could raise the funds and fix the park up whether they’re involved or not and use that as leverage for their part of the agreement. This is a 50-year agreement and I think we’re in year 30 of this agreement. So, I was happy to find out literally about six months ago that we were actually owners of the park. So that just opened up a whole new thing,” said Robinson.

Robinson says the relationship with parks and recreation has “been a great partnership ever since late last year and we’re continuing to build on that now.” The Wholespire HEAL Mini-grant proved to parks and recreation that they were serious about revitalizing the park. They’ve been able to rely on the department for help with maintaining the grass, tree and debris removal and other high-maintenance requests.

Media advocacy and community engagement are two essential components of public awareness campaigns. Each plays a crucial role in shaping public opinion, influencing policy, and mobilizing support. Robinson understood this and went straight to The Chronicle-Independent newspaper.

“I invited the editor of the paper out to the park to show him what we intended to do. I literally walked the park with him, opened up the shelter building, let him know that this is who we were and what we planned to do. He did a beautiful 2-page article about the park, the history and our goals for the park.”

Awareness in the form of media coverage helped ramp up Robinson’s ability to advocate for their park improvement efforts and prove that Knights Hill Historic Preservation Board is a valid and credible organization. Introducing himself and the organization at council meetings and to individuals after the meetings became easier, allowing for better conversation and even funding opportunities.

Identifying the first project with community feedback

Knights Hill Park basketball court before the renovations.
Knights Hill Park basketball court before renovations.

Knights Hill community members of all ages have been involved in the park’s revitalizing efforts from the beginning. They were included in meetings and asked to provide feedback on their wants and needs. The seniors and youth set the phases of the overall project.

“Usually, our meetings were held outside underneath the shelter building, so as people were coming to the park – there’s a swing area, the playground area, as well as the basketball court and then a baseball field in between all of that — they would watch us meet once a month and depending on what was happening, we just pulled the kids over and said ‘Look you know this is what we’re doing. What do you all want to see first?’ We thought as adults that that would be a great way to engage young people. Offer them something and then we can engage them in future plans down the road.”

“So, they were with us every step of the way, designing the court, picking out the colors for the court and they just could not wait as we were going through the process. The court was in progress and the kids were still playing on it. So, there were times when we had to literally work around the kids. ‘Look, kids, please play on this side of the court so we can get the work done on this’ and the other side that we wanted to do for any particular day.”

Measuring the success of a basketball court

Knights Hill basketball court during renovations.
Youth playing basketball on an unfinished court.

It’s easy for Robinson to see the benefits of revitalizing the basketball court and it puts a smile on his face. He says that not a day goes by that he doesn’t see people playing basketball. There’s a new respect for the court – litter is decreasing. And during a recent May Day community event, the court was particularly exciting.

“We hadn’t finished painting the court, but the kids didn’t care. They’re playing three-on-three. Then it was five-on-five. Then the teens were waiting to play. The girls had the courts for a while, and they were doing their thing and it was just…it was beautiful to watch.”

Another successful indicator is when young people from outside of the Knights Hill and Camden communities find out about a great basketball court.

“During college spring break earlier this year, I was out doing something on the court and there were all kinds of kids here. And the interesting thing is, there were more white kids there than I had seen in a long time. So, I just let them play, and I was doing my thing on the other side of the court. When I got finished, I asked them, ‘Where are you guys from?’ Three of them were Clemson students, one was from Coastal Carolina and another one was from USC. They had gotten together and driven from Lugoff because they had heard about the Knights Hill basketball court. They said, ‘Man, this is gonna be a cool court when you get finished. We can’t wait to come back after the school year is over.’ We saw some of those people during the summer come back and play basketball.”

Looking forward to a healthier future

Knights Hill Park basketball court after picture.
Knights Hill Park basketball court was brought back to life.

The stars aligned for the Knights Hill Historic Preservation Board. Starting from scratch is no easy task for a large project like revitalizing an entire park. The organization has found that when you engage with community members and value youth feedback and participation, the chances of getting things done and being successful on many levels can be achieved.

But they’re not done yet. The seniors want a walking trail for safe physical activity. Then, there’s the baseball diamond, lights, shelter improvements, a potential community center, and yes, a youth employment program.

The Knights Hill community values its cultural heritage and has a huge sense of pride. They want their roots to grow deeper and stronger. “And that’s more than anything for me. That’s what I want to happen… something to be proud of…to see young people and elderly folks come to this park and just enjoy the stories that they bring.”

Visit the Knights Hill Historic Preservation Board Facebook page to keep with up with their progress.

Clearing a path to agricultural careers with a school-based community garden

Clearing a path to agricultural careers with a school-based community garden

Whale Branch Middle School students fill-in their newly built raised garden beds.
Whale Branch Middle School students fill in their newly built raised garden beds.

Returning to your roots seems to be a recurring theme for many Wholespire Healthy Eating and Active Living Mini-Grant recipients. But that’s no surprise for those of us who were raised in rural communities. There’s something special about growing up in a small town that instills values like feeling a strong sense of community, trust, responsibility, and civic engagement, to name a few.  

In Northern Beaufort County, there’s a close-knit community that goes back generations and has a long history in farming and agriculture. Whale Branch, or Seabrook, comprises low-income and food-insecure families. If you’ve ever taken a road trip to Beaufort, you’ve driven through the area and probably noticed farms, marshes, creeks and rivers. If you live close by, you’ve most likely gone there to buy fresh oysters, shrimp or blue crabs or to pick tomatoes or strawberries.

Farming and agriculture are disappearing there, thanks to land development. However, a local nonprofit composed of local farmers and descendants is trying to change that while feeding the community and empowering youth through a community garden at Whale Branch Middle School. Some may tell you it’s turning into more of a farm.

Connecting the past to the present

Heritage Community Farm (HCF) isn’t a farm, as the name might imply. It’s a nonprofit started by local volunteers to identify underutilized land in Beaufort County and develop community gardens for food security, education, economic opportunity, conservation and preservation. HCF President Catherine Isbell and some local farmers and businesspeople were inspired to create the nonprofit after attending a Clemson Extension leadership program. Initially, they focused on developing mini-farms, but realizing the infrastructure cost would be too much for a startup nonprofit, they decided to focus on community gardens.

Heritage Community Farm Vice Chair Roy Green
Heritage Community Farm Vice Chair Roy Green is the resident farmer for the community garden.

Isbell, a former educator, explained they had identified Whale Branch Middle School as a partner because the campus, which is also home to Whale Branch Elementary School, had an unused greenhouse and the space for gardens. “And that’s how we changed from sort of a farm aspect to a community/education garden, and we’re almost farming now, aren’t we?”

According to the website, HCF Vice Chair Roy Green was raised on a farm and was taught at an early age the importance of growing your own fresh produce. He began farming alongside his mother and father at the age of five. He completed the South Carolina Master Gardner program through Clemson Cooperative Extension and shares a passion for growing vegetables.

“Yeah, yeah, I know a thing about farming. I have a rich heritage in farming,” explains Roy Green, vice chair of HCF. “My parents were farmers; coincidentally, my mom and dad grew up in that area. When there wasn’t a school there, it was farmland, so it all worked out that we could use that area…and working with youth, they can make the connection on what’s going on, tell their parents and grandparents about it and learn from them that they used to farm that land.”

HCF and Whale Branch Middle School started small and built on their successes one step at a time. From a few garden beds in disarray to multiple raised garden beds and a large, plowed field, the students are reaping the rewards in the classroom as the crops are shared within the community. And we’re not talking a little here or there. We’re talking about an abundance of produce shared year-round. HCF has managed to grow its volunteer base, get students involved outside the classroom, and keep their community garden project growing and thriving even when school is not in session.

Youth empowerment through education

Heritage Community Farm Board Member Ernie Wiggers
Heritage Community Farm Board Member Ernie Wiggers enjoys working with the students and other volunteers.

A lot of work is involved in a large project like the community garden/farm at Whale Branch Middle School, but the students get more out of the work than they might realize. They are getting hands-on experience and relating it to science and math in an outdoor classroom environment. They are gaining valuable knowledge and skills in farming, agriculture and life, and some teachers are too.

“We do have a few teachers who consider themselves to have green thumbs, but we have a specific teacher who absolutely hates going outside,” says Jamie Allen, principal of Whale Branch Middle School. “By the end of the school year, she was wondering if her name was going to be on the schedule for her class to go out and either harvest or assist with planting, and so it has just taken on a whole life of its own, and people are excited.”

The teachers are receptive to using the garden as a teaching tool. Principal Allen says, “Some teachers have used it more so in conjunction with math. The science teachers have been using it for photosynthesis and the natural processes from seed to plant to table. So, sometimes it’s been content related, other times it’s just been life skills.”

Middle school is a time of transition for many 11- to 14-year-olds. They’re experiencing many changes, physically, cognitively and emotionally. They exhibit a wide range of characteristics as they navigate the transition from childhood to adolescence. Principal Allen says some students go into the garden with mixed feelings, but in the end, they love it.

“I have middle schoolers who are moody sometimes, and they don’t think they want to do it, or they don’t want other people to know that they think it’s cool. So, they might come out there grumbling and then arguing because they didn’t get a shovel or they want to plant some more seeds, but their experience oftentimes is, oh my gosh, we planted this and look what we’re pulling out of the ground. Harvesting and planting are definitely a highlight for the kids.”

Working with students and doing something good has many rewards for the volunteers. Ernie Wiggers, HCF chair, says, “It’s a lot of fun. It’s rewarding. You know, working in your garden. It’s great to work with young people and hear them talking about how their mom or grandmother cooks with certain products and stuff, and so I think it’s a nice addition to their educational experience, that’s for sure.”

Harvest Day at Whale Branch Elementary School
Everyone’s favorite part is harvest day.

The power of funding and donors

HCF has been working with Whale Branch Middle School for only a couple of years, yet they’ve already achieved great success with the help of funders, students, and community volunteers.

“The past year and in large part due to the grant that we got from Wholespire, it’s just been a year of tremendous growth for us. The grant provided us with funds to build four additional raised beds. We were able to shift some money that had been granted into other projects because we had donations that came through,” says Isbell. “As things expanded, so did our volunteer list. Working with Principal Allen and teachers has helped us coordinate the days that the kids come out and work with the volunteers.”

One of their secret weapons is the military. Beaufort is home to three military bases: Parris Island Marine Corps Base, Marine Corps Air Station and the Naval Hospital. Military personnel often volunteer to help out.

Wiggers proudly says, “One of our big volunteer groups, when we really have something large going on, and we need a lot of people power, is the local military bases. The military encourages their men and women to do volunteer work. They will come out in large groups, and we get some big projects done on those days.”

To plant a seed is to believe in the future

Whale Branch Middle School students taste radishes.
Whale Branch Middle School students taste radishes.

When asked what she hopes the students get from this experience in the long term, Principal Allen says, “To be able to live off of the land, to plant and harvest their own food, to see that we can actually do things besides going to the grocery store. There are actually a lot of careers out there that are aligned with agriculture, and, ultimately, I want them to be exposed to that. I want them to be able to take care of themselves in a future that we don’t know what it’ll look like and to be exposed to professional opportunities and to build a career out of it.”

Allen adds, “I believe that the impact on the students and the community will be much larger than we can imagine right now, you know, as our children grow and mature and have their own experiences. I do think it has a lifelong impact on the students who have gotten the opportunity to experience it.”

Perhaps a more important lesson for students is learning or being reminded that farming and agriculture are part of their heritage. Green reflects, “Where we grew up, farming was huge, and to see our kids learning more about how their parents and grandparents made a way, made their living with farming…and to hear Miss Allen say that now she can plant a garden because it’s not hard — it looks hard, but it’s not that hard. And if you put your mind to it and have the will and the labor to do it, you can do it.”

When people return to their roots, many take an interest in using their skills and knowledge to improve the quality of life for others to do something good. And that’s what’s happening at Whale Branch. Their desire for positive change can result in collaborative efforts and community development initiatives that make hometowns more vibrant, inclusive, and prosperous places to live.

As Principal Allen said, “We don’t know what the future holds. We want our children to be prepared for whatever there is to come in the future, and that does include agriculture.”

Visit the Heritage Community Farm Facebook page to see more!

HEAL Mini-Grant maximum ask increased

HEAL Mini-Grant maximum ask increased

It’s that time of year to apply for a HEAL Mini-Grant! The 2023-24 application is open, and we’ve made a few changes. But first, here’s a reminder of what our mini-grants are all about – increasing access to healthy choices by implementing a policy, system or environmental (PSE) strategy.  

PSE strategies are improvements that stand the test of time. They’re sustainable and available to anyone in the community. From adopting a healthy vending policy that impacts an entire school population or adding a new way of accessing fruit and vegetables in the food system to repairing a community basketball or tennis court or adding bilingual signs to any public recreation resource or farmers market, PSE strategies help community members make healthier choices and complement health programs.  

New Online Application System 
The most significant change is that we’re using a new system, so there’s a new way of submitting your online application. Applicants can no longer register to start their application and return later to complete it or make edits. Applicants will only be able to create and complete their online application once. Our new system does not provide a save function.  

So, what’s new? 

Maximum Request 
With permission from our funder, The BlueCross® BlueShield®, the maximum amount that can be requested for the proposed project has increased from $5,000 to $6,000. The increase is due to the current economy and the increase in costs of project supplies.  

On-Demand Technical Assistance 
Applicants will have easier access to technical assistance, a.k.a help, regarding the application, how to complete a budget, and PSE strategies. The video tutorials can be found on the mini-grant website. If you need additional help understanding the mini-grant process or have questions the videos do not address, you can email Kelsey Sanders at kelsey@wholespire.org. 

Project Examples Webpage 
We created a webpage featuring articles about HEAL Mini-Grants, partners’ projects and other past mini-grants to show you the projects we fund. Use the information to form ideas for your proposed project or one you’re currently planning.  

If you want to apply for a HEAL Mini-Grant, you must meet specific requirements:  

  • Applicants may be a current 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization OR use a fiscal agent who is a current 501(c)(3) including, but not limited to, Wholespire chapters, community coalitions, schools, local governments, or faith-based organizations.  
  • If your organization is not a 501(c)(3), you must provide the information for the fiscal agent you selected. 
  • The budget for your request must not exceed $6,000. If it does, your application will not be considered. 
  • The proposed project must be a PSE strategy. 

For more information, visit our website or email Kelsey Sanders, MPH, CHES, at kelsey@wholespire.org