It all starts with just a few steps — literally.
That’s what the founders of Healthy Central Florida (HCF) say it takes to start working toward a better, healthier life.
HCF, which was formed by Winter Park Health Foundation and Florida Hospital with partnerships with many community groups, is an organization dedicated to education and helping the residents of Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville start living a healthier lifestyle through exercise, eating right and building a happy, connected community.
They’ve created many events to give residents opportunities to live out the organization’s goals, and Oct. 6 at Winter Park’s Central Park stage, HCF’s newest initiative will kick off. The Mayors’ Sole Challenge starts at 8 a.m., and the mayors of Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville will attend the 30-minute fun walk hoping to encourage their town to get the most people out walking that day. The community with the most participating residents gets $1,000 to spend on a healthy initiative of its own.
“Walking is kind of the gateway … of exercise,” HCF Executive Director Jill Hamilton Buss said. “The research shows that communities that walk and people who walk are healthier.”
Maitland Mayor Howard Schieferdecker agreed. “We hope to get people out exercising and living a healthier lifestyle,” he said.
The challenge was inspired by Eatonville Mayor Bruce Mount’s walk and talk program. He spends time each Monday and Wednesday morning taking a walk with any resident who’s interested in joining and talks about community issues. Mount said his walks have improved the health of many of his residents, who have seen weight loss and blood pressure problems decrease. He’s even lost 20 pounds. Not only that, but he’s been able to get to know the community even better and discovered problems he never would have without his walks.
“I’ve seen the residents be more open to voice their opinions,” Mount said.
The cities of Maitland and Winter Park have plans to start their own walk and talks with city officials soon.
“It’s made a difference in the lives of the people of Eatonville, and we just hope that the spirit that they’ve started with can be extended to what we’re doing too,” Winter Park Mayor Ken Bradley said.
Connecting three cities
Buss said what can be accomplished on a simple walk, such as the one during the Mayors’ Sole Challenge, encompasses all the goals of HCF — exercising, eating right and connecting with others — and can be done any day of the week.
“It just builds community; it’s a friendly way to travel,” Buss said. “We’re hoping that it sparks, for those who don’t walk, that they’ll start walking. For those who already do, it just says I’m part of a bigger community.”
And the Sole Challenge will connect three communities, something that hasn’t been done much in the past, Mount said.
The 30-minute walk with the mayors from each city will start at Winter Park’s Central Park stage at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6, followed by a healthy breakfast and entertainment. Registration is requested, so visit healthycentralflorida.org or call 407-644-2300, extension 241.
“I wanted to have a dialog with Winter Park and Maitland that the town did not have before,” he said. “When they come to the Sole Challenge they will see we can walk hand in hand … they have not had that interconnection with each other before.”
All the mayors said the Challenge will promote friendship between residents, and they hope that everyone will find a new neighbor to walk with when they attend.
Making concrete improvements
The HCF organization not only works to inspire change in people, but in the cities it serves. With the help of three moms from Winter Park and Maitland, the cities have gotten about $400,000 in grants to build 3,000 feet of sidewalks through local neighborhoods to Maitland Middle School and Dommerich Elementary School, as well as improve the safety of busy intersections.
The improvements have made it safer and easier for students to bike, walk, skate or scoot to school. And Michelle Sartor, one mom in charge of the initiative, said on days they have events, more than half of all students choose to exercise their way to school. Sartor said she hopes that the kids will learn to think twice before getting in a car for a short ride, and decide to walk or bike instead.
“We hope it motivates them … and they’ll continue their good habits,” she said.
Sartor said the Sole Challenge is great because it’s fun, reinforces the HCF mission and is part of a long-term plan to get everyone living a healthier life, which isn’t always an easy task.
“It’s important because we are looking to the future,” she said. “With this, everybody wins.”