Activating Rural America

Activating Rural America

Voices for Healthy Kids Innovation, Equity, and Exploration Special Project Workgroup

Project Description

Current physical activity research leaves significant gaps between evidence that is derived predominantly from urban or suburban contexts and the lack of initiatives focused on, or even including, rural settings. Efforts are needed to identify policies proven effective for majority populations in urban/suburban settings and examine if and/or how these initiatives can be adapted, translated, and implemented for rural and high need populations. Active living policy approaches including bicycle and pedestrian appropriations, Complete Streets, and Safe Routes to School are effective and have demonstrated promise across the U.S.; however, a more robust exploration of how these policy areas are being addressed, adapted, and implemented in rural communities is needed to ensure that effective solutions can be developed to address the inequities experienced in rural communities.

The Physical Activity Research Center (PARC) received funding from Voices for Healthy Kids (VFHK) to create a Workgroup and an Advisory Board to explore current initiatives addressing multiple active living-related policy levers within a rural context, including bike and pedestrian appropriations, Complete Streets, and Safe Routes to School. The overall aim of this project is to inform VFHK of rural practices and challenges regarding these active living-related policy levers, with specific attention to health equity. Some ways the project team plans to collect this information is by conducting grey literature and Google news searches, speaking with the Workgroup members bi-weekly and the Advisory Board quarterly, and through key informant interviews with rural communities currently working in these policy levers.

Specific deliverables of this work will be to

  1. Identify and describe current rural efforts to adapt and advance the VFHK active living policy levers, with specific attention to approaches or challenges related to health equity in rural communities,
  2. Provide recommendations and considerations to VFHK for next steps in continuing or modifying these policy levers for rural communities,
  3. Create summaries of lessons learned from workgroup activities that could be distributed to a variety of stakeholders with interests in rural health and physical activity, and
  4. Develop a prioritized set of research questions that could fill gaps in understanding and developing solutions for inequities in active living opportunities for rural youth.

Leadership Team

M. Renée Umstattd Meyer, Professor, Baylor University

Organization Website: https://www.baylor.edu/chhs/

Personal Bio Page: http://www.baylor.edu/chhs/umstattdmeyer

Email: Renee_Umstattd@baylor.edu

Dr. Renée Umstattd Meyer is a Professor in the Department of Public Health at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.  She works with communities using mixed methods to understand cultural context and advance approaches and policies to foster healthy and active opportunities and lifestyles for all people.  She focuses much of her work partnering with underserved rural communities.  Renée co-leads the Activating Rural America Voices for Healthy Kids Innovation, Equity, and Exploration special project work group; the RWJF-funded Physical Activity Research Center (PARC); and the Rural Physical Activity working group of the CDC-funded Physical Activity and Policy Research Network + (PAPRN+).

Christiaan Abildso, Associate Professor, West Virginia University

Organization Website: https://publichealth.wvu.edu/hrc/

Personal Bio Page: https://directory.hsc.wvu.edu/Profile/39141

Email: CGABILDSO@hsc.wvu.edu

Christiaan Abildso is an associate professor in the Department of Social and Behavior Sciences at the West Virginia University School of Public Health. His research interests include health promotion program evaluation and social-ecological determinants of physical activity in rural settings, including policy and the built environment. Dr. Abildso has multiple peer-reviewed publications about the impact of rail-trails, physical activity planning, and evaluation of state-level health promotion programming. Christiaan is also active in local and state transportation policy decisions through his service on his the Citizens Advisory Committee of his local Metropolitan Planning Organization, as VP of the Board of Directors of the Mon River Trails Conservancy, and VP of the Board of Directors of West Virginia Connecting Communities – a statewide bicycling advocacy organization.

Amanda Walker, Research Associate, University of California, San Diego

Organization Website: https://paresearchcenter.org/

Personal Bio Page: https://activelivingresearch.org/about/programstaff/wilson

Email: alw038@ucsd.edu

Amanda Walker is a Research Associate at the University of California, San Diego and the Project Coordinator for the Activating Rural America workgroup. She connects decision-makers with evidence that supports that communities designed for activity are better for health, economic vitality, and environmental sustainability. Amanda is a daily bike commuter and an advocate in her own community for safer bicycling and pedestrian facilities. She received her MS degree in Recreation Studies from the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management at the University of Florida.

Christina Bridges Hamilton, Research/Teaching Assistant, Baylor University

Organization Website: https://www.baylor.edu/chhs/

Email: Christina_Bridges@baylor.edu

Christina N. Bridges Hamilton is a Kinesiology, Exercise Nutrition, and Health Promotion doctoral candidate and research/teaching assistant at Baylor University in the Department of Health, Human Performance, and Recreation. Her research incorporates community based participatory research approaches, with both quantitative and qualitative methods, to increase healthy behaviors. Specifically, her research focuses on children’s physical activity levels in underserved, minority communities and how that impacts childhood obesity.

Michelle Pennington, Research Assistant, Baylor University

Program Manager, Baylor Scott & White Health

Organization Website: https://www.baylor.edu/chhs/

Personal Bio Page: https://www.bswhealth.med/research/Pages/institutes-and-centers/warriors-research-institute/staff.aspx

Email: Michelle_Pennington@baylor.edu

Michelle is currently pursuing a Master in Public Health from Baylor University part-time, while working full-time as a Program Manager at the Warriors Research Institute of Baylor Scott & White Health. She has been involved in a variety of research projects examining topics including mental health stigma, suicide in fire service, and telemental health for hard to reach populations. Michelle graduated from Baylor University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology in May 2013.

Advisory Group

Bike and Pedestrian Appropriations

Angie Cradock, Senior Research Scientist, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Organization website: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/

Personal bio page: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/angie-cradock/

Dr. Angie Cradock is a Senior Research Scientist and the Deputy Director of the Harvard Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Cradock’s research primarily focuses on the social, policy, and environmental factors associated with physical activity and nutrition behaviors among youth.

Andrew Dupuy, Manager of Policy Outreach, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Organization website: https://www.railstotrails.org/

Personal bio page: https://www.railstotrails.org/about/staff/#policy

Andrew N. Dupuy is the manager of policy outreach for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Drew is responsible for state-based policy, advocating for funding for active transportation and trails from state legislatures and agencies. His professional background includes analyzing policy for members of the Texas Legislature and managing press & communications for national nonprofit advocacy organizations and for political campaigns in Illinois, Oklahoma & Texas.

Kate Kraft, Executive Director, America Walks

Organization website: https://americawalks.org/

Personal bio page: https://americawalks.org/about-us/leadership/kate-kraft/

Kate Kraft is currently the Executive Director of America Walks, a national network of walkable community advocates.  Prior to America Walks, Kate was a consultant with national organizations and foundations on developing comprehensive community prevention programming.  She is an expert in policy, environment and systems change strategies and was a chief architect of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s active living and health eating Grantmaking portfolio.

Ken McLeod, Policy Director, The League of American Bicyclists

Organization website: https://www.bikeleague.org/

Personal bio page: https://www.bikeleague.org/content/staff

Mr. McLeod is the Policy Director for the League of American Bicyclists, a national non-profit dedicated to Building a Bicycle Friendly America for Everyone. His work focuses on federal and state policy to promote the safety, comfort, and accessibility of bicycling as an active mode of transportation. You can learn more about his work and the League of American Bicyclists at www.bikeleague.org.

Katie Selin, Planner, Alta Planning

Organization website: https://altaplanning.com/

Personal bio page: https://altaplanning.com/people/katie-selin/

Katie joined the Alta Planning + Design in 2017. She is an experienced active transportation planner and enthusiastic about collaborating with communities to create active, equitable places. Katie leads Alta’s Public Engagement Group and specializes in Safe Routes to School planning and evaluation, new mobility, bike share, trails, and active transportation planning in rural communities. Originally from West Virginia, Katie holds a BA in Government and Global Studies from Colby College in Maine and a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from Portland State University in Oregon. 

Community and Health Equity

Noah Lenstra, Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Organization website: https://soe.uncg.edu/

Personal bio page: https://soe.uncg.edu/directory/faculty-and-staff/bio-noahlenstra/

Dr. Noah Lenstra has worked in libraries since 2006, most recently as an assistant professor of Library and Information Science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He developed the Let’s Move in Libraries initiative to support public librarians interested in integrating physical activity promotion into their programs, spaces, and collections. He is currently working on an Institute of Museum & Library Services grant-funded project (LG-18-19-0015-19) that will answer “How do small and rural public libraries address health and wellness through public programs?”

Laurie Whitsel, Vice President of Policy Research and Translation, American Heart Association

Organization website: https://www.heart.org/

Personal bio page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/laurie-whitsel-ph-d-faha-bb4b688/

Bio Coming Soon!

Complete Streets

Emiko Atherton, Director, National Complete Streets Coalition, Smart Growth America

Organization website: https://smartgrowthamerica.org/program/national-complete-streets-coalition/

Personal bio page: https://smartgrowthamerica.org/about-us/our-staff/emiko-atherton/

Emiko Atherton is Vice President of Thriving Communities and the Director of the National Complete Streets Coalition (Coalition), a program of Smart Growth America (SGA). In her role as Vice President of Thriving Communities, Emiko oversees SGA’s Arts and Culture, Rural Communities Program, and Complete Streets Program, leveraging SGA’s multidisciplinary skill sets and experiences to partner with communities of all sizes throughout the country through comprehensive, on-the-ground technical assistance, supporting the development and implementation of policy, regulations, and plans to build stronger communities.

Karin Valentine Goins, Research Project Director, UMass Worcester Prevention Research Center

Organization website: https://www.umassmed.edu/prc/

Karin Valentine Goins, MPH, combines public health practice and research with a focus on community-level transportation and land use to support active living. She currently conducts physical activity policy research as part of the UMass Worcester Prevention Research Center housed at UMass Medical School and serves as program director for the Physical Activity Policy Research and Evaluation Network (PAPREN). Her projects include building capacity of public health stakeholders to improve physical activity opportunity by engaging in transportation and land use decision making and developing decision support tools for use by transportation practitioners and policy makers. A longtime walking and biking advocate, Ms. Goins co-founded WalkBike Worcester. She and her family regularly spend time exploring natural and settled places in rural areas around the US.

Beth Osborne, Director, Transportation for America, Smart Growth America

Organization website: https://t4america.org/

Personal bio page: https://t4america.org/team-member/beth-osborne/

Beth is the Director of Transportation for America. She was previously at the U.S. Department of Transportation, where she served as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy and the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy since 2009. At DOT, Beth managed the TIGER Discretionary Grant program, the Secretary’s livability initiative, the development of the Administration’s surface transportation authorization proposal, and the implementation of MAP-21. Before joining DOT, Beth worked for Sen. Tom Carper (DE) as an advisor for transportation, trade and labor policy, as the policy director for Smart Growth America and as legislative director for environmental policy at the Southern Governors’ Association. She began her career in Washington, DC, in the House of Representatives working as a legislative assistant for Rep. Ron Klink (PA-04) and as legislative director for Rep. Brian Baird (WA-03).

Emily Schweninger, Deputy Director, Thriving Communities, Smart Growth America

Organization website: https://smartgrowthamerica.org/

Personal bio page: https://smartgrowthamerica.org/about-us/our-staff/emily-schweninger/

Emily Schweninger is the Deputy Director of Thriving Communities, a program of Smart Growth America (SGA). A public health professional with over 12 years of experience, Emily focuses on building stronger, more resilient communities by promoting health equity in the built environment.

Safe Routes to School

Sara Zimmerman, Program & Policy Director, Safe Routes Partnership

Organization website: https://www.saferoutespartnership.org/

Personal bio page: https://www.saferoutespartnership.org/about/contacts/sara

Sara Zimmerman is the Program and Policy Director for the Safe Routes Partnership, supporting communities in their work to increase transportation equity, physical activity, and safe walking and bicycling for children and adults.  Sara oversees the work of the Program & Policy team, including the consulting department and technical assistance team, ensuring that high quality assistance, reports, and resources are available for communities across the country as they work to develop active and equitable transportation systems. Previously, Sara worked as a senior staff attorney and program director for ChangeLab Solutions, a national legal and policy nonprofit focused on healthy communities. 

Voices for Healthy Kids

Aaron Doeppers, Senior Manager of Strategic Partnerships, Voices for Healthy Kids, American Heart Association

Organization website: https://voicesforhealthykids.org/

Bio Coming Soon!

Claudia Goytia, State and Community Advocacy Manager, American Heart Association, Voices for Healthy Kids, American Heart Association

Organization website: https://voicesforhealthykids.org/

Personal bio page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/claudia-goytia-0abba850/

Bio Coming Soon!

Marla Hollander, National Partnership Manager, Voices for Healthy Kids, American Heart Association

Organization website: https://voicesforhealthykids.org/

Personal bio page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/marla-hollander-b8116b51/

Bio Coming Soon!

Stephanie Scarmo, Senior Manager of Policy Research, American Heart Association

Organization website: https://voicesforhealthykids.org/about/our-people/stephanie-scarmo

Email: stephanie.scarmo@heart.org

Stephanie Scarmo, Ph.D., MPH is Senior Manager for Policy Research at Voices for Healthy Kids, an initiative of the American Heart Association with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Stephanie leads the research and analysis efforts for the initiative, which focuses on advancing state and local policies to make each day healthier for all children.

NaDa Shoemaker, National Partnership Manager – Coalitions, Voices for Healthy Kids, American Heart Association

Organization website: https://voicesforhealthykids.org/

Personal bio page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nada-shoemaker-86620731/

Bio Coming Soon!

Workgroup

Bike and Pedestrian Appropriations

Chris Clark, Grassroots Campaign Manager, Palmetto Cycling Coalition

Organization Website: http://pccsc.net/

Email: Chris@pccsc.net

Chris Clark manages grassroots engagement for the Palmetto Cycling Coalition in Columbia, South Carolina. He earned his MPA with a concentration in nonprofit leadership from the University of New Orleans in 2012. Chris strives to make South Carolina’s roads safer for everyone by building a diverse coalition of stakeholders from across the state.

Community and Health Equity

David Brown, Senior Behavioral Scientist, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

Personal bio: http://www.eunaapa.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/dbrownusabiosketch.pdf

Email: drb8@cdc.gov

David Brown focuses on translating evidenced-based physical activity interventions into community-based programs and practice.  He earned his Ph.D. in Kinesiology with a major in Exercise and Sport Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Additional training includes graduate degrees in Educational Psychology (University of Arizona), and a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education (Western Michigan University).  His public health focus is on promoting physical activity-friendly communities that are inclusive of population groups having physical activity and health disparities, including persons with disabilities, different racial/ethnic groups, and rural and Tribal communities. His interests include both the physical and mental health outcomes associated with physical activity.

Beverly Collins-Hall, Executive Director, American Indian Mothers Inc.

Organization Website: www.americanindianmothersinc.org

Email: beverlycollinshall@gmail.com

Bio Coming Soon!

Leah Gagnon

Organization website: http://extension.missouri.edu/mocan/

Personal bio: http://extension.missouri.edu/mocan/steering.htm

Email: gagnonl@missouri.edu

Leah Gagnon coordinates the Missouri Council for Activity and Nutrition (MOCAN), housed at the University of Missouri-Extension in Columbia, MO. She completed her MPH in Community Health Education at Baylor in May 2018 and received her BS in Health Promotion and Wellness from Missouri Southern State University in 2016. She is proud to apply and grow her skills in community health engagement, collaboration, and research alongside MOCAN to advance the health of Missouri children and families.

Megan McClendon, Lecturer, Texas State University

Organization Website: https://faculty.txstate.edu/profile/2201527

Email: mem473@txstate.edu

Megan McClendon is currently working at Texas State as a lecturer in the Public Health Program. She received her PhD in Health Promotion at Baylor University in July 2019 where she had the privilege of working with rural communities. She strives to empower rural communities through research, student inclusion, collaboration, and community engagement.

Nicole Miller, Library Director, Cannon Falls Library

Organization website: https://cannonfalls.lib.mn.us/

Email: nmiller@selco.info

Nicole Miller is the Library Director of Cannon Falls Library, a small rural library in Minnesota. She earned certification through Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) as a group fitness instructor and through ChairOne Fitness to meet the community need for affordable exercise classes for at-risk. She is excited to use her knowledge and experiences in rural libraries with Activating Rural America.

Yvonne Murphy, N.C. Cooperative Extension, Edgecombe County Center

Organization website: https://edgecombe.ces.ncsu.edu

Email: yvonne_murphy@ncsu.edu

Yvonne Murphy is a native and resident of Tarboro, NC, and veteran of the US Air Force. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work (BSW) from East Carolina University (2004) and plans to attend the Master’s program at NC State University in Parks & Recreation in the fall of 2020. She currently holds the position of Health Matter’s Associate at Edgecombe County Cooperative Extension through NC State University/NC Cooperative Extension. Her work currently involves working on a grant from the CDC through the Department of Public Health Division of Health and Human Services primarily focusing on increasing access to physical activity through wayfinding and connecting everyday active routes in rural communities. Previously, she has worked for several years in Nutrition Education through the Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), which also focuses on increasing physical activity. She is committed to working in her county and in the small rural municipalities to promote physical activity access and nutrition education to help decrease health disparities within Edgecombe County.

James Roemmich, Center Director, Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Organization website: https://www.ars.usda.gov/plains-area/gfnd/gfhnrc/people/james-roemmich/

Email: james.roemmich@usda.gov

Dr. James Roemmich is the Center Director of the United States Department of Agriculture, Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center in Grand Forks, ND. He earned a B.A. in Biology from Jamestown College, a M.S. (Exercise Physiology, Biology) at Ball State University, the  Ph.D. (Exercise Physiology) in 1994 from Kent State University, and completed a 3-year post-doctoral research fellowship (Pediatric Endocrinology, Exercise Physiology) at the University of Virginia. He is proud to serve the people of the United States directing and engaging in physical activity and nutrition research in a rural setting to promote the health of all Americans.

Complete Streets

Ron Bentch, Project Coordinator, Missourians for Responsible Transportation

Organization website: http://movingmissouri.org/

Personal bio page: https://pednet.org/person/bentch-ron/

Email: ron@movingmissouri.org

Not too long ago in the middle of the night, Ron Bentch was woken up by his wife, Cindy, saying, “Contracting is going to kill you! What are you going to do with the rest of your life?” Ron worked as a construction contractor in central Missouri for ten years, and before that, he and Cindy spent several years in South Africa leading diverse teams in community development and sustainability projects. Ron acknowledged his wife’s call for change and found the perfect job as the Project Coordinator for Missourians for Responsible Transportation. This position allows him to use the community-building skills he honed in Africa as he travels the state and meets with community leaders who want to increase walking, biking, and transit options for all Missourians. Cindy now believes Ron will live a long life.

Ross Daniels, AICP, Community Planner, Public Health Law Center

Organization Website: https://www.publichealthlawcenter.org/

Personal Bio Page: https://www.publichealthlawcenter.org/content/our-staff

Email: ross.daniels@mitchellhamline.edu

Ross Daniels, AICP, is a community planner with the Public Health Law Center in St. Paul, MN. He provides technical assistance to communities seeking to improve community health through system and environmental changes, primarily through food systems and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure. Before joining the Public Health Law Center, he worked as a planner for WSP’s Nashville office, where he worked on an array of transportation, transit, and downtown revitalization projects in rural communities.

Gregoria Ponce, Office Chief, Rural Planning, Caltrans

Organization Website: https://dot.ca.gov/

Email: gregoria.ponce@dot.ca.gov  

Sandy Slater, Associate Professor, School of Pharmacy, Concordia University Wisconsin

Organization Website: https://www.ihrp.uic.edu/researcher/sandy-j-slater-phd

Email: Sandra.Slater@cuw.edu

Sandy Slater, PhD, MS is an Associate Professor in the School of Pharmacy at the Concordia University Wisconsin. She received her doctoral degree in Public Health Sciences with a concentration in Health Policy and Analysis from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2005. Her research aims at understanding policies and factors in the environment that impact health behaviors, such as physical activity and tobacco use. Her research also focuses on better understanding racial/ethnic and cultural differences in health behaviors and environments as they relate to health disparities.

Jessica Stroope, Research Associate, Louisiana State University School of Nutrition and Food Sciences

Organization website: https://www.lsuagcenter.com/profiles/jstroope

Email: jstroope@agcenter.lsu.edu

Jessica Stroope supports Louisiana State University AgCenter Cooperative Extension agents as they work with community coalitions to implement physical activity-related policy, systems, and environmental changes. Jessica serves on the Louisiana Complete Streets Advisory Council, where she advocates for active transportation concerns for rural communities. She holds an MPH in Community Health Education from Baylor University.

Safe Routes to School

Ashley Christensen, Regional Economic Development Specialist, Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission

Organization website: https://www.uerpc.org/

Email: achristensen@uerpc.org  

In her role with Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, Ashley Christensen partners with cities, organizations and individuals to help build the future of rural Northeast Iowa. Cultivating strong, vibrant communities through knowledge sharing, idea development and resource expansion is at the heart of her work, which has centered around active school travel and safe community routes for the past seven years. Ashley holds two Bachelor of Science degrees from Iowa State University in Kinesiology and Health and Animal Science.

Hillary Mead, Supervisor, Cherokee Nation Public Health

Organization website: http://cherokeepublichealth.org/

Email: hillary-fry@cherokee.org

Hillary has been working on active living strategies within rural communities since 2011. She collaborated with local coalitions and city governments on initiatives such as walking school buses, sidewalk improvements, drop-off/pick-up routes, and other street improvements. Initiatives also include city resolutions and ordinances for complete streets and safe routes to school.

Jacki Schares, Safe Routes to School Coordinator, Iowa Northland Regional Council of Government (INRCOG)

Organization website: http://www.inrcog.org/

Email: jschares@inrcog.org

Jacki Schares coordinates the Safe Routes to School Program for six counties in eastern Iowa and facilitates the 5-2-1-0 Healthy Choices Count! program for the city of Waterloo. She graduated from Iowa State University with her BS in Health Sciences and Wellness in 2008 and completed her CHES certification the same year. Jacki is excited to connect with other organizations to expand her knowledge and skills for healthier rural Iowa communities.

Jerry Stensland, Safe Routes to School Coordinator, RPO Planner, Isothermal Planning & Development Commission

Organization website: https://isothermalrpo.org

Email: jstensland@regionc.org

Jerry Stensland is the President of the Rutherford Outdoor Coalition (ROC) in Rutherfordton, NC and the Director of Parks and Recreation in Polk County (NC). Since 2003 Stensland has help implement ROC’s mission of improving outdoor recreation including work in expanding access and use of local trails and rivers and worked to expand opportunities to walk, run and bike. In 2020, ROC will partner will multiple local organizations including Isothermal Planning and Development Commission, Rutherford Community Health Council and area schools to implement a countywide Safe Routes to Schools Program. Stensland serves as the co-chair of the Health Council’s active living committee.