Laureen Husband’s childhood school was five miles from her family’s farm in the foothills near Mount Kenya. So was the church the family attended.
And when Husband had to get to those places, she relied on her feet.
“I lived on a farm, so everything we ate is what we grew, and walking was the mode of transportation to get anywhere. Either you walked or you biked,” Husband recalls. “But a bicycle was actually a very important commodity. Only my grandfather had a bicycle, so everybody else, we walked everywhere.”
Husband now lives thousands of miles away from her childhood home. But she continues to incorporate the lessons she learned as a youngster into her work as director of Healthy Jacksonville, a coalition of partners, agencies and organizations dedicated to working together to find ways to reduce childhood obesity in the Florida city.
Healthy Jacksonville oversees an eclectic mix of programs and initiatives designed to improve community health. For example, the organization has set up more than 20 community gardens, including many at schools, to teach people about eating healthy. It has helped establish farmer’s markets to provide access to fresh produce, especially in disadvantaged areas, and worked to improve the food and beverages served in local schools.
The organization also is implementing joint use agreements that would allow the community to access spaces such as school playgrounds after hours to stay physically active, Husband says.
“Basically, [we’re] trying to get people to live that sort of lifestyle where you don’t have to think of physical activity or healthy eating as a different component of your life,” she explains. “It’s just what you do.”
Although Husband always has cared about being healthy — she’s an avid runner and loves to garden, for example — she didn’t always intend on working on public health. Husband, who came to the United States at 16, actually began her career with an eye toward diplomacy.
She wound up working on a variety of projects, from providing job training to low-income women in Kentucky to starting a running club to use physical activity to help motivate at-risk youth. Husband says she likes to think the job at Healthy Jacksonville found her — and she says her diplomatic skills still come into play, considering how much she interacts with both policymakers and the community.
“We tackle, based on population data, any chronic disease problems. We bring them back to the community, and have the community help us to formulate the solutions as identity resources to create the solutions,” Husband explains.
One of Healthy Jacksonville’s current initiatives is a push to convince the City Council to reinstate an impact fee that developers would pay that would go to fund transportation projects designed to get people more active.
The goal is to show the council that the fees aren’t an obstacle for development, but rather a way to pay for smart development that will benefit the entire community, Husband says. If the city can use the money generated from the fees for alternative transportation projects, more people will be healthy, which will pay off in the long run.
“Jacksonville is a very haphazardly built city, and it was built for the car, not for the person who wants to walk or the person who wants to bike,” Husband explains. “Because we have a really great plan that has ways to connect Jacksonville using other transportation modes, we’re hoping that the City Council will listen to us and actually start collecting these fees to help people lead healthier lifestyles.”
Click here to connect with Laureen Husband.
PreventObesity.net’s Zach Brooks contributed to this report.