Mass in Motion seeks solutions to improve health outcomes for Holyokers

HOLYOKE – The city’s Mass in Motion program wants to improve health outcomes for residents of the Paper City.

The city received a $110,000 grant for Mass in Motion, which focuses on healthy eating, recreation and exercise, food and ways to improve infrastructure and quality of life.

At a public meeting last week at the Flats Community Center, Stephanie Colon, city coordinator for Mass in Motion, said the statewide program promotes healthy and active living. The initiative reports to the Holyoke Office of Planning and Economic Development and the state Department of Health.

Colon led a group exercise that sought residents’ opinions on what affected health outcomes, such as limited access to fresh produce, city parks or how public safety or crumbling sidewalks could hinder efforts.

Started in 2013, Mass in Motion held a smaller event during October’s Doors Open Holyoke. “Mass in Motion is about active and healthy living, but also about active transportation, meal planning and access to healthy foods in the city,” Colon said.

She added that Mass in Motion examines all aspects of the neighborhood, including signs, bike lanes and road and sidewalk conditions. “A lot of people have mentioned that they don’t feel safe on their street,” she said. “This event was created to guide our work plan for the next four years and to see what people’s needs are.”

Ileana Carrion, senior project manager at the Office of Planning, said the session informed residents about health care disparities and gathered important input from participants. Mass in Motion has formed partnerships with the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, Holyoke Farmers Market, 5,2,1,0 Living Group and Holyoke Medical Center.

“The goal is to get that information and address comprehensive, long-term issues,” Carrion said. “We’re trying to diversify our population, not just get one set of people, but we also want to get everybody.”

Carrion noted that the planning department will work with the city engineer and community stakeholders to secure funding to fix aging infrastructure, especially sidewalks and crosswalks. “These are all contributing factors to a healthy and active lifestyle,” she said.

Colon and Carrion conducted a tree exercise with the participants. “We ask people what their biggest health concerns are and why they are their biggest health concerns,” Carrion said. “We’re trying to look at the root causes of why things are a problem.”

Mass in Motion played four turkeys and four pork shoulders. Guests also picked up produce delivered from the farmers market.

Center Street resident Tara McLarnon said access to quality health care, especially for teenagers, is an issue for her. Also, her neighborhood is essentially a food desert, with limited or no healthy food options.

McLarnon should shop at the Big Y in South Hadley or the Holyoke Stop & Stop. However, she wants the ability to shop locally for a wider variety of foods, including organic options.

She also worries about her and her daughter’s safety as they walk the streets at night, restricting their movements, McLarnon added. More activities and recreational opportunities for children have also been a priority for her. “When kids have things to do, it keeps them out of trouble,” she said.

As a visiting nurse, Mildred Lefebvre worked with patients in the inner-city neighborhoods. Lefebvre also chairs the Holyoke School Committee. “I’m trying to figure out what Mass in Motion focuses on,” she said. “These are things I can give back to my patients.

Lefebvre hoped that the information from the meetings would lead to better health outcomes for all Holiokers. She added that improvements to sidewalks and accessibility should be part of the conversation.

She said some sidewalks are not handicapped accessible. “You see them in the middle of the street in motorized wheelchairs,” Lefebvre said. “It’s just not available.”

Lefebvre mentioned the high rate of diabetes in the Latino community, a typical condition on her weekly rounds. “It’s very much about education,” she said. Not being able to afford high quality, less processed food was also a factor.

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