Active Ottumwa Podcast Episode 6
Hannah Shultz: Welcome to a Community on the Move: The Story of Active Ottumwa. Active Ottumwa is a community-based research project that encourages all adults to be more active. Ottumwa community members, and the University of Iowa used the latest research to design this project. The research project for Active Ottumwa has concluded, but the Active Ottumwa program continues under the leadership of Hy-Vee of Ottumwa and with the positive support of community organizations. In this series, we’re learning from people involved in the project about what worked well, what they learned along the way, and the impact Active Ottumwa had on the community. Over the next 10 episodes, we will talk about many aspects of the Active Ottumwa project. To learn about the successes, challenges, lessons learned, pride, and humility that went into this project. My name is Hannah Schultz, and I am the host for this series, and I’m learning about this program along with you. I work at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, but I have not been affiliated with Active Ottumwa until we started planning this podcast series. Working on this series has been a joy. I’ve been impressed every step of the way by the passion, commitment, dedication, and persistence of all involved in this project. And I am very excited to share this with you. One of the many reasons I’ve been impressed by this project and I’m so excited to share it with you is the active participation and inclusion of people representing many different communities, organizations, and interests in Ottumwa. The focus of Active Ottumwa was on physical activity, which came out of a community survey highlighting that this was a need for the community. The project used community resources to promote and support active living and physical activity across the community.
My name is Hannah Schultz and I work at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. This is our sixth episode of this series talking about Active Ottumwa and today we’re going to talk about environments that support physical activity. Our guest today is Garrett Ross. When Garrett became involved with Active Ottumwa, he was the membership and marketing director for the Ottumwa Family YMCA and he’s currently the interim CEO, Executive Director of the Ottumwa Family Y. And of course, our friends Becky and Sandy are back with us. Becky Bucklin is the program manager of Active Ottumwa. Working out of the University of Iowa and Sandy Berto is the former field coordinator in Ottumwa. In the first episode of this series, we talked about the history of Active Ottumwa with the strong connections the University of Iowa team made with the community before the project began. We’re starting today’s conversation and talking about what resources each brought to the program to help it be successful.
Garrett Ross: Well, I would say that one of the things that I really believe was an integral part of that has a lot to do with our parks, and our parks and recreation department specifically. We have a very vast opportunities in terms of park space, trails, and the availability of those things. So, there’s so many free options at Ottumwa. And quite often the thing that hindered that the most was people’s knowledge of what is available to them. So really, one of the things that benefited us a lot was the fact that we have so much available to us. Really part of our work was just getting the word out and making sure that people were aware of what’s available to them. In the Ottumwa area as well, we have a very high per square foot I guess or per square mile per capita of Park and Recreation available in Ottumwa as well too. So, it’s a really great thing to have that but when if it’s doesn’t really matter if people don’t know about it, so it made our jobs easy. It wasn’t like we had to do a lot of the work on the back end to get that park space and availability. We just needed to tell people about it.
Hannah Shultz: We heard about trails in other episodes too. For a small community, Active Ottumwa has a lot of great indoor and outdoor space and was very fortunate that many community organizations were eager to support the program.
Sandy Berto: Groups that I found that were very willing to accept Active Ottumwa were other places that we’ve talked about previously. Ottumwa Regional Health Center, we utilized their conference rooms for Tai Chi. Good Samaritan Center has a lovely rec room where we did dance fitness. Market on Main, which was a community gathering place also opened up their big floor on the evenings when they could. We had dance fitness there. Some yoga early on. Quincy Place Mall was a great place for indoor walking. Ottumwa Community Schools also worked with us for square dancing at one of the elementary schools. And of course, last but not least, the YMCA who really assisted us with water walking in their pool on Friday evenings. Organizations that really supported Active Ottumwa, we were really part of the Diversity Committee Group and also the Healthy Community Meeting Group. I think those were two really big key players in helping us get the word out not only about Active Ottumwa, but if indeed, we needed space, and people would reach out to other people of other organizations that might be able to help us.
Becky Bucklin: A lot of those organizations also connected us to events and things happening in the Ottumwa community. So, the YMCA every year had a health fair that we were always invited to. The Healthy Community Group had a lot of members that came to that meeting that would have their own fairs and their own events that we would be able to present at for free or for a reduced cost. Or we could partner with, actually Sandy frequently was put a lot by Hy-Vee, which was one of the reasons why Hy-Vee knew a lot about what we were doing and got excited about it, which led to some of that sustainability of the program. The Trails Committee, they have a really strong Trails Committee in Ottumwa, which Kim is a head of. And then also the Parks Board did invite us multiple times to come talk to them, which so we just had a lot of cooperation from a lot of different organizations throughout the community. And on top of that, there’s there is a lot of talk around revitalization of Ottumwa. So, like the downtown area has had a lot of work put in and continues to have a lot of work put in around making it visually appealing, but also making it safer to walk with better crosswalks, wider sidewalks that are as much like a tripping hazard. And a lot of that does lead to people being more active. And that leads to gateways to the trail system, which runs like right along the river right next to downtown. And so, starting to create some of these connection points. I know the Trails Committee has a whole list of ideas of things that they can continue to work on, to expand the trails and make it more accessible. But really the community is trying to revitalize and build around initiatives that I think will greatly impact the, like economically will impact Ottumwa and benefit Ottumwa. But at the same time, a lot of those economic benefits that would bring people to a beautiful downtown also make people more likely to be active in that beautiful downtown. And I know the parks, the parks department works very hard to keep they have huge parks in Ottumwa. Like Garrett was saying, I actually did look up that number Garrett right before I started because I wanted to make sure I had it. But they have 2.7 acres per 100 residents, which is three times the national standard. And I found that on the Ottumwa parks website, which is a really great number. So again, there’s tons of resources out there, and there’s a lot of opportunity to be active. It’s just people, some people were using it and utilizing the spaces clearly Otherwise, there wouldn’t be such an initiative to create such big spaces. But we really wanted to let other people in the community know that it’s for them too. Because a lot of times when you have parks and you have recreational facilities, I know we talked about that a little bit with the YMCA where sometimes people just don’t know what’s for them. So, we had to like open up their mind and let them know that actually you can utilize this space and it can be free to you. And you may really enjoy an activity you didn’t know that you had access to before.
Hannah Shultz: Becky mentioned the trail system and parks in Ottumwa. This is a big benefit to many communities throughout our state and region. But folks don’t always think about getting active in outdoor spaces. Becky also made a really good point that trails and outdoor rec spaces are important in attracting new people and economic development. So much of our conversation in the previous five episodes has focused on the incredible human resources that were key drivers to the success of Active Ottumwa. From the Community Advisory Board to Physical Activity Leaders and so many others. It’s right to talk about how impressive this team is. But physical activity needs to happen somewhere. And this was a free program. So, we’re going to continue talking about the places and spaces where Active Ottumwa took place.
Sandy Berto: Most of the time I found that if you asked and people had heard of Active Ottumwa or you explained what Active Ottumwa was and our mission, it’s just hard not to see the positive results that would happen within our community. And if our communities healthier mentally and physically, it’s just kind of a no brainer not to be part of Active Ottumwa, it got so that after Active Ottumwa seemed to just really blossom. We had people coming to us, asking us to do pickleball and activities for children and add a nutritional component to it. And why couldn’t they wait, it did take some convincing that the model for the lay health advisor or the PALs to be the leaders of the group. People did have some reservations about leading a group, but we’re very willing to support Active Ottumwa. And one way they did that was offering their space free of charge, which I thought was really huge and really spoke to their commitment to help citizens of Ottumwa become healthier.
Garrett Ross: You know, from a perspective of the YMCA, where we were happy to be able to provide several opportunities and connections to either a space or instructors even at that point as well, too. And, and it makes sense for the vitality of our community to have these options and this diversity. It only benefits all of us if everybody becomes more focused on wellness and healthier overall. So rising tide raises all ships. And us knowing this, it was an important step for us to offer space, and make a commitment as an organization to a movement like this as well. I mean, Active Ottumwa didn’t necessarily feel so much like, like a organization so much as it was a move and a shift in how we think about our lives here in Ottumwa, and what we should be focused on and what is available to us as well. So it made sense, even from a YMCA standpoint to say, okay, as an organization that relies on membership revenue, how are we going to let people in here and utilize space for free for a class. It makes sense for our community. Once again, our YMCA is here for our community, and it’s just going to benefit our members, it’s going to benefit those people who aren’t members, and it might become members as well. But overall, this is going to help push our community from that sedentary lifestyle, just maybe a notch and a half up and get them towards that moderate physical activity. So, we’re moving ourselves forward is what we really needed to do. And I think once organizations in our community realized that that was the premise of Active Ottumwa, I agree with Sandy, I don’t believe it was a hard choice for them to offer space and support the cause.
Becky Bucklin: Actually, I’m gonna jump off that, I don’t think we’ve mentioned that our logo had, we had a logo that was created by a graphic designer, but really the CAB was integral in designing that logo. And we had a slogan at the bottom of the logo that says “A City on the Move.” And we used that frequently. And the CAB really came up with that actually, Garrett, you might know more because I think that that happened before I joined, you decided on it. But this whole, the whole program was really to get anybody moving, but also moving the city forward. So, we really did focus a lot of our energy and effort when we were talking to community members. But how this puts Ottumwa, this program puts Ottumwa on the map, and like the research world. But it also puts Ottumwa on the map and like the CDC eyes and nationally, and it’s also moving the city forward. While we’re putting the city on the map of like people recognizing that Ottumwa has so many amazing assets, that can lead to a healthier lifestyle of its residents.
Garrett Ross: I remember us going through different taglines and I remember us going through different logos as well. I do remember us really grabbing hold of that City on the Move, really because of the double meaning, you know, I mean it really is. It’s saying why we do what we do, you know, and it’s really, if everybody really appreciated that not only are we trying to get physically active, get people active, but once again it’s a huge indicator for vitality of your community. That’s what we all I mean, that’s what we truly also wanted to see. And so we really did like that. And I can’t remember I think that there were three logo options. I think there might have been three or four different options for like a tagline but we really liked the City on the Move. Just because like I said we were thinking progress, you know. Ottumwa is kind of coming out into it and into a new phase of its history, hopefully of vitality and road making itself kind of a nice, wonderful, river community to live and work.
Hannah Shultz: This process Garrett described of the community making and driving decisions reflects how a lot of the program worked and is a huge part of its success.
Becky Bucklin: This is why CBPR Community Based Participatory Research is so important. Because if we as researchers would have went into the community, and tried to just talk to organizations and let into letting the research or the university user spaces. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, universities are seen as places where there’s a lot of money. But that’s not necessarily always the case, especially with research projects that are kind of running on a shoestring, which happens to be a lot of community engaged research. And so, we really didn’t have funds in our budget to pay locations to let us lead physical activities. So that would have been a lot of times, if the university would have come in only, it would have been harder to get places to trust us as well. Not only for the financial aspect but also, I don’t, I know, we wouldn’t have been able to get to the right people. So Sandy was in the community every single day going to community meetings, connecting with different people, connecting with the CAB to connect with different people, going to these big fairs. And once you find the right person that you need to talk to that right person leads you to actually getting something done like going to the school. So, there’s a lot of different people you can talk to at a school, but in order to find the right person that you need to talk to, to be able to use the gym at the school, that actually can be a lot more complicated. Or it’s the same way with any business around. So, like we had some stuff at the Crisis Center. And the Crisis Center is a small organization but getting in contact with somebody at the Crisis Center and trying to talk through them about why this would be important, could be very complicated for somebody the university. But Sandy is very good at connecting with the community and the people there and selling the program and saying that the program, this is why it would impact you, or this is why it would be important to you. So, like making that case from a trusted community member, I think is another piece that the researchers we couldn’t have done if this wasn’t a community engaged project.
Garrett Ross: I would agree with that. And not only that, I would just add to it that I mean, just as we’ve said before, it’s so important to get cheerleaders. And there is there’s no bigger advocate for this programming, than Sandy as well. And I think that really, that came out when she sat down with you to pitch the program and communicate that to community stakeholders. I would completely agree with Becky, that if the University of Iowa when I came into my office, was here at the YMCA and said, “hey, we want to use your pool for free on Fridays.” I probably would have been like no, we have rates for that though if you’re interested. You know, and I think that’s an important factor. But when Sandy comes in and she sits down, she talks about her interest and her commitments and enthusiasm for the work that’s happening, it changes your perspective you know, and it really does. And it means more when it is coming from somebody who is connected and invested in the community as well. So, I would 120% agree with that statement.
Hannah Shultz: Garrett’s perspective in this conversation has been really great, especially coming from the YMCA, which has membership fees and charges for a lot of their programs. But he’s also a huge advocate for the program. So, I asked him, if otherwise, the Y will also open themselves up for free community activities.
Garrett Ross: There are approximately 25 other YMCA associations in the state of Iowa. And it varies it is on a case-by-case basis, per different YMCA, every YMCA is its own independent organization. But there are I mean, they work with a lot of different community organizations, not necessarily just in research function, but in terms of supporting their communities as well. And a YMCA is meant to be a little bit different everywhere you go, because they’re meant to be a reflection of their community and what their community support needs. So yeah, I could say that specifically what those programs would be I couldn’t tell you exactly. But I know from personal experience, even just local YMCA’s as well, too. They’ll work with small community organizations or in bigger representation, sometimes with community colleges to support community programming. Things such as that, whether it’s gymnasium space, you know in our case, it’s pool space you know, but just little things like that. Absolutely. We’re here to make sure that our community moves forward.
Hannah Shultz: Going back to the trails and outside resources. We talked a little bit about the walkability of Ottumwa, many of you may have heard of a walkability score. So, Becky shares a number and it’s actually a number used by realtors. It’s not the walkability score that we frequently hear from others. But here’s a great conversation from Becky, Sandy, and Garrett about how walkable Ottumwa is and what some of the challenges are.
Garrett Ross: We’ve got a walkability score in Ottumwa?
Becky Bucklin: Yeah, let me…
Garrett Ross: I guess I hadn’t heard that. I’ve heard that, that we don’t have great walkability, that there are still some, some areas that we don’t have very good curbs or sidewalks at all in some areas. But…
Sandy Berto: Actually, I attended the walking college that was held in Ames. And it was part of the Healthiest State Initiative, if I remember correctly. And part of my homework was to do a walking, walking assignment here in Ottumwa. So, several of the Ambassadors came and joined me and we walked around downtown. And we noticed the gaps in the sidewalks, the inaccessibility for handicapped people, in a wheelchair, there’s not very many places that are friendly for the visually impaired. So it was a truly a real eye-opening experience. I do have to say, when we went out and had this rehearsal during the walking college, we walked and I don’t know Ames at all, but we walked along one of the busier streets. And we walked around and noticed the lack of pedestrian markers and the gaps in the sidewalk. The how close it was, the sidewalks were to the traffic. And at one point now mind you, there were 15 adults, all in the bright yellow vest that indicated that we were all together and to garner the attention of the drivers. Twice, someone was almost hit by either people turning right without paying, paying any attention to the pedestrians that we were and also somebody almost came up over the curb. Maybe they were watching the 15 people in their in their bright reflective vests but it was truly not only eye opening in Ames, but also here in Ottumwa.
Becky Bucklin: Ottumwa is considered very walkable with a score of 76. And it says most errands can be accomplished on foot. But a lot of that is downtown, like the downtown city center of Ottumwa has become fairly walkable because of all this downtown revitalization and because of the trails along the river that you can connect to it I was talking to earlier. But then the bike score of Ottumwa is 41. So, there’s minimal bike infrastructure, which is interesting for Iowa because we have Ragbrai and a lot of places in Iowa have some really big bike advocates throughout Iowa. The thing is, a lot of those bike advocates want really long bike rides, they don’t want short commute bike ride rides, that is a place that we’ve identified as something that Ottumwa could use a little bit more safety bike infrastructure. And a lot of the things Sandy was talking about with like curb cuts, being a little bit safer and having the like the dotted. When you come to an intersection there being a square box, it’s dotted. I think those are called truncated curb cuts. I think Kim would know this. But basically, those spaces are for blind people to know that they came to an intersection. And also, a lot of times those two, they make it so that there’s not a it’s great to have a buffer on a sidewalk to protect people from cars coming up onto the sidewalk. But that’s not so great when you come to an intersection and you want to cross because people in wheelchairs or with any sort of disability that impairs their ability to walk even steadily or even older adults who struggle with curb cuts. It’s really great to have those inclines going are those declines and inclines going up from the intersection so that they don’t have to make a step. Ottumwa does not have tons of those except for in the downtown area where they’re really building out. They do have a lot of the that infrastructure there. Kim and I did go out and do this assessment in the very beginning of the project, the Rural Active Living Assessment, which is a really great assessment tool. I will say, from my perspective, it’s a little bit harder to assess at a micropolitan level because I think that it’s meant for more rural communities and micropolitan community tend to fare much better because they have a lot more resources. But then there are some walking audits done at like an urban level that a micropolitan community couldn’t really keep up with. There’s just not the infrastructure there. So, I think that there, I do think that there needs to be an assessment somewhere in the middle. But we did this Rural Active Living assessment. And with that, we found we did 16 different streets segments. With that we did the 16 different segment walks me and Kim went out together, and we like judged or evaluated these street segments throughout the community. And a lot of Ottumwa does have sidewalks, not very many of them are the wide sidewalks, they’re like three-foot sidewalks, a lot of them are very, like, I think it’s a foot and a half. But they’re not super wide, and they’re not very well maintained. So, in some areas, when you try to use the sidewalk, though it’s there. Though it’s there, it’s actually probably safer to go on the street. Because the sidewalks are so not taken care of. There’s weeds and grass, they are uneven. And a big part of this is, though the city, this I don’t know if this is Ottumwa specific so Garrett, let me know if this is if you know if this is Ottumwa specific, but I do know, or if this is an Iowa thing, but the city can put a sidewalk in. And that does not cost the owner of the property money. But if that sidewalk cracks, or if that sidewalk during the winter, if snow needs to be removed from the sidewalk, that is the property owners. That is that is a property owners’ responsibility to get done. So, a lot of people not, I don’t actually want to generalize. Some people, then because of this really actually don’t want the responsibility of having a sidewalk put in their yard because then in the winter they have to clean it. And it’s not people being lazy, it’s some people honestly don’t have the capability to clean it themselves. You think of an 80-year-old person who’s been in their house for 30-40 years, and all of a sudden, you’re trying to put a sidewalk in the middle of their yard that they’re not, they know they can’t shovel. That’s gonna be a huge, and if the sidewalk does crack, it’s the person’s responsibility to pay to fix it, which is another huge issue. And so, because the city isn’t, though, they can put it in there. And people are very excited to have things be a little bit more connected, a lot of people don’t want that additional responsibility, which then leads to the sidewalks kind of being just being in disrepair. And some of the other things that we noticed is that though some places are very well lit, a lot of other places are not very well lit. There’s not a lot of streetlamps, which makes it hard to use those sidewalks at night. safely. Let me see, did I have anything else? Oh, there’s a beautiful section of the trail like again along the river. But then it goes off by the John Deere plant down there. And they put these amazing lights that they got a grant for, I think Gene was in charge of that, the parks director. But they have these solar paneled lights that are put out in that area is actually I think, used very frequently by walkers. But it kind of, to me that’s just a case study to show that that whole Iowa, if you build it, they will come type thing. Not that that’s actually true. Because even if you do build it, you do need to let people know that it’s there, and it’s theirs to use. But I do think that that area has really shown that if you have really great trail infrastructure and you have it lit well, and you maintain it that people really will use it a lot. And I think that that is beginning spread to the downtown area. But then there’s a lot of these connector side roads that I think need a lot of work there’s sidewalks there, but they’re not really usable.
Garrett Ross: I think one of the big things that Ottumwa’s about too is that we do have a really great trails infrastructure. But it is true that the communities like when you get into the densely populated areas of homes, they’re not connected as well to a lot of the trail systems. And so that’s kind of the challenge.
Becky Bucklin: The Ottumwa Trails Council is thinking about a lot of these connectors too. So, one huge things with active living type conversations, is that how do you get people to want to actively get to places? Destinations that they need to go, such as jobs, to the grocery store. What we believe we helped do is try to drive people to utilize infrastructure that was being built. But now that if we can get people to walk more in the community through these walking groups and show people that it’s safe to walk to the mall, maybe the next time they’ll do it on their own. And so, I think it was a great layering effect of some of these things that the community was already really trying to do to revitalize itself that we just added on to.
Sandy Berto: Most of the time when people want to walk on the trails, they drive to the park as one central location and then do their walking, meet their friends there. They’re also, we sponsored a couple different bike riding groups. And people if people lived close enough and they felt safe on their streets, being able to access the trails, which is just a couple different areas from neighborhoods that I can think of, they would bike and meet their friends there. Or they would bring their bike on their bike rack on their cars. The mall being connected to the trails, I do know that there were several people who met in the parking lot of the mall, and then did their bike group or walk group.
Garrett Ross: You know probably it’s one of those things whereas a father for myself you know, I think about okay, am I going to be able to take you know, my two-year-old, my seven-year-old out on a walk together? Am I gonna feel safe when we’re on that walk? That I think that is kind of going back to you know, Becky’s point a little bit about community vitality and homeownership and walkability as well. I think it really is important. When families want to get somewhere that they can take that walk. Whether it’s you know, whether it’s a foot and a half wide sidewalk or three-foot-wide sidewalk, is kind of beside the point to me. It’s that it’s not going to be right next to a road, actually. With my two-year-old and my seven-year-old, you just you’re never quite sure what action they’re going to take next. And when you’re right next to a road, you know, a sidewalk isn’t the most conducive place or doesn’t give you the most feeling of security, while utilizing that walking space. So, I think that’s kind of the trails give you that secondary option where you’re not walking anywhere next to cars. Just like we were talking about, you know, that highway 34 intersection at Quincy and 34 is extremely busy. There are no sidewalks connecting any of it of that area. But it is a very major area for restaurants and shopping and things like that. So, I think one of the big challenges is that, that head on challenge. I think a lot of communities see is the walking versus the automobiles you know, and what’s probably going to be easy for one is not going to be easy for the other, and vice versa. So, and I think we found ourselves pushing so far to, so hard to fix roads here in Ottumwa for such a long time that we had kind of neglected on there needs to be consideration for walking engagement as well too. I just, I wouldn’t feel comfortable trying to take my kids across the Quincy Road from the old mall area over to the Kmart Plaza. It just wouldn’t. I mean, there’s no safe place to do it. I wouldn’t feel that there’s an actual area where it’s designated for you to walk across. I don’t believe that there’s any walk crosswalks indicated even on that road. So once again, it’s kind of like we have to take a step back and make sure that it’s not just one or the other. We’ve got to take both into consideration like I think is one of the things that’s happening downtown in Ottumwa right now is they’re saying how can we still make it conducive for an automobile environment. But still ensure that people still feel safe and comfortable utilizing the space and walkability standards. So, we, I think we’ve got to make sure we’re taking both of those lenses into perspective when we’re doing expansion or creation as well.
Hannah Shultz: Garrett makes a really good point here, that we often set up these dichotomies of health versus economy, cars versus walkers, and many other things. And we really don’t need to do that. And in Ottumwa that community has shown that keeping the community’s health and the community’s needs in the forefront is good for everyone. Now we’re gonna switch gears again, and we’re going to talk about the organizations that opened their space up for activities.
Sandy Berto: Ottumwa Regional was very generous in offering their conference rooms for us on Saturday mornings at 10 o’clock for Tai Chi. And the mall is open from 8am to 7pm, I think there have been some restrictions with the COVID crisis. But it was opened early for walkers when life was normal. And it would open at seven o’clock for walkers to come. And that used to be a very busy time, not only during February when the weather’s cold here in Iowa. But also, people who couldn’t do the heat or had allergies, and just felt more comfortable walking where it was smooth flooring, there was cement. So, or tiled, so that also was a big factor for the mall. Also, Bridgeview Center was also open, it has a big luxurious waiting area that is carpeted that you could go in the middle of February and watch the eagles soar over the river. Because the whole north side I think it is that faces the river, was very charming to watch the eagles and, and gather with your friends to walk. And you could, it’s big enough that you could get a good walking around and not even be aware that you had walked out because you’re walking and talking about the eagles. Um, let’s see we utilized Wilson School for square dance lessons. Also, Good Samaritan Center, the Rec area there, the YMCA. I’m trying to think of other places. We just had an official agreement with good Samaritan. I think the other places were a gentlemen’s agreement. Honestly, of course, with the mall and the trails, there wasn’t any kind of an agreement. And Ottumwa Regional it was, yes, we want you to come in. I don’t think we had an official agreement with them. But with Good Sam., they requested it. So, the team in Iowa City put together a release form and they went with it. And we never had any problems. Ironically, the only place where we did have one concern that happened between participants was here in the Active Ottumwa office. When Tai Chi got so big that we had a couple ladies bump into each other and a disagreement ensued, but nobody was harmed. And it was all resolved peacefully. But I think that was all I could think of.
Becky Bucklin: Did you say Market on Main?
Sandy Berto: Oh, Market on Main, yes. Some, valuable resource for us. Not only was it very important for several of our classes, but it also introduced a lot of people who didn’t know what Market on Main was about. And it was a business through one of the, through the Legacy Organization here in Ottumwa. And it was also an area where people who were starting their own businesses could sell their wares. Also, the place where the International Festival was also brought to Ottumwa. So, it was just a real gathering place of all different kinds of activities.
Becky Bucklin: Now Market on Main is kind of like an indoors farmer’s market. Like it has all these like startup businesses. Where you go in and you can shop local at all these different businesses under one roof. And then they have separately a room, like a get together room that they would. It was also a bar, but we didn’t have any alcohol at any of our Active Ottumwa events. But they did have like an area that was kind of and they will sometimes have wedding receptions and things in this area. And that’s the area that they would let us use for free. And they’re one of our first indoor partners. And they’re like right downtown. It’s a beautiful space. Lots of parking. It was a very convenient location. Unfortunately, Market on Main has since closed. But they were a huge proponent of getting us a space that was indoors that we could use year-round. And that helped promote our program to people that we wouldn’t have maybe reached otherwise. They weren’t very far from our office. And they’re incredibly generous with letting us use their space for free. And they kind of set the tone that locations and organizations around Ottumwa could let us use their space for free. So that, I’m not sure Sandy, maybe you didn’t do this but I’m sure that a little bit of the poll for some organizations for letting us user spaces was that well, Market on Main is letting us use their space. And they trust us to use their space and we haven’t done anything to make it so they’re not going to trust us use their space. So, these other organizations, I’m sure, jumped out a little bit easier having such a big name in the community on our monthly calendar.
Sandy Berto: Oh yeah St Mary’s Church yes, was utilized for the Latino activities, and it was very well attended.
Hannah Shultz: By this time in this series, we’ve talked with a lot of people and heard about countless people, businesses, community organizations, parks, and other Ottumwa resources. Because one of the goals of this podcast is to help others who are thinking about implementing similar programs in their communities. I was really curious how Sandy kept it all coordinated and moving forward.
Sandy Berto: Part of my position as a field coordinator with Active Ottumwa was sometimes like herding cats. Because as you mentioned, there are so many moving parts, there’s moving personalities sometimes. There would be instances that might come up with a PAL, or someone needed to have some guidance, or a facility might all of a sudden have no room for us. There were a couple times when the conference rooms were busy for Active, or for Ottumwa Regional Hospital. And we would either find another place to go, or we would make sure that most of the people who participated were notified. It also was a very positive experience for me personally, because I got to meet a whole, another set of people that I wouldn’t have had I not been part of Active Ottumwa. I was able to draw upon the people that had been in my life personally and professionally and bring them to Active Ottumwa. But mostly it’s been so much fun to meet all these new people and what they have to offer. And I also had the support and the kindness and communication, that was really great with the team in Iowa City.
Becky Bucklin: And another thing, I think one of my favorite Sandy Berto quotes is, “it takes baby steps.” So, every time it did sometimes seem like we were taking a step forward something would happen and maybe we would take a step backwards. But we were always making a little bit of progress forward, like be it finding a new contact at Good Sam who was willing to let us be, to offer classes there, or like St Mary’s, finding the right person at St Mary’s. So initially, we had one of the sisters at St Mary’s who was trying to be a Physical Activity Leader. So that was our baby step forward, but then she is very busy and overbooked, and she does so many wonderful things for the community, so she couldn’t actually lead an activity herself. That was a baby step backward. And then we take another baby step forward, we’re like, but can you help us find other people who actually would have the time and are connected in your church community to lead some classes? That she did find those people, we train them, baby step forward. Then we would have the ok so now they’re trained, where can they lead the activity? And St. Mary’s was a great place to lead it but they’re also very busy, their locations are very busy. And a lot of times when the participants were free, and it would be best for the participants was Wednesday nights when they might be having church service upstairs. So how do we like workout having a church service upstairs and they’re trying to lead an Active Ottumwa activity? Or they’re moving around and making a whole bunch of noise below and they had to be quiet. So, it was those like the constant we would maybe move forward with something, a new problem would arise. But through teamwork and through our connections with the community we would find a new space so then on Wednesday next, Sandy I think I’m right about this, on Wednesday nights. we moved to the Crisis Center for the Latinas classes. Because that was another location, they felt safe going to. One of the people who works at the crisis center is also a Latina, and so she highly valued our program and so they started leading the classes there on Wednesday nights and they had the class at the church on a different night. So, it was just kind of this constant ebb and flow of every time there was a problem we would work together as a team, and through our community contacts to make a solution happen as quickly as possible.
Sandy Berto: I think also for me, maybe it’s being the mother of three daughters. Maybe it’s my years of being a nurse. I remember when my girls were all at home and they were old enough to stay home alone, I would tell them, “as long as everybody’s breathing, and no one’s bleeding, it will be okay.” So, it’s not that I didn’t take life or Active Ottumwa seriously, but you also have to be able to go with the flow and realize that things happen. But that together you can come up with a solution to whatever problem happens.
Garrett Ross: I mean obviously Sandy is underscoring her work here as well. But let me make sure to illustrate that, you know, coming from a group ex kind of a background with the work that we do here at the Y. It takes years to build a reputation of a quality product when you’re working with people individually on wellness. And so, it takes the level of consistency that is very well thought out, well laid out, and consistent. Because it takes years to create that standard, and it only takes weeks to tear it down. And Sandy’s consistency and her ability to maintain that and that strong communication throughout to not only PALs, but to participants, really made the program as good as it possibly could have been. These are things that fitness facilities and gyms and YMCA’s struggle with on an ongoing basis, how do we stay connected and keep our community informed? And so, her personal connection with each one of these individuals, like I said participants and Physical Activity Leaders, was really important to making that work.
Hannah Shultz: To close out today’s conversation, I zoom out quite a bit, and I ask our guests what advice they have for other communities looking to implement programs like Active Ottumwa.
Sandy Berto: I think for me was being able to utilize some of the meetings where there are several organizations that come together, the Healthy Community meeting group and the Diversity Community meeting group were both large. 15 to 20 to 25 people each meeting, it gave organizations a place to share what was not only going on with their, in their own organization, but also to be able to problem solve to a certain extent. It was actually through the Healthy Community meeting group where I was sharing information about Active Ottumwa, that we needed space to hold for a dance fitness class. And that’s where Good Samaritan Rehab Center approached me about being able to have classes there. So, I think just finding some of those key places to kind of inch into was made a real easy choice for me. I also made sure that before I went to those meetings that I had a packet of information about Active Ottumwa. Whether or not it was the Active Ottumwa pens, and then the information flyer perhaps, bookmarks to hand out to everybody, so that everybody took home printed material as well.
Becky Bucklin: I have I think three kind of bigger picture things that I had laid out on when prepping for this. One, you have to find the right person, by that I mean I’m kind of in two different avenues one is find a Sandy. I tell that to almost anyone who’s like how do you make Active Ottumwa happen, you find a Sandy. So, someone like Sandy who’s very connected in the community, very enthusiastic about the project, is really great to work with and for, and is willing to find the right people. The other people in the community who helped make all these connections happen with finding places to lead activities, finding new Physical Activity Leaders to lead activities, being able to get the word out about the program. The second one is being creative and keeping your options open. So, I think there was a lot of times when we would have a new location who may be interested in partnering with us. But that’s not been done before, how do we make sure that that space is safe like a crisis center? It’s a very small office, how do we make sure that that’s a safe place to be active? And it’s being creative and being flexible and working with the organization itself to make sure that it’s safe, as well as the participants. And making sure to have open and honest clear communication. Which is my third one, is being clear about the procedures on both sides. So what resources are going to be needed at the location for the pallets to take that Active Ottumwa would have to supply? But on the other end, what resources could the place supply itself? So, I know the Ottumwa Regional I think, Sandy right they supplied a television that would be in the room? And how do we make sure that that television is in the right room, the right conference room that night to have the activity that was happening in that location? So having these procedures and resources. And how does that workflow happen of getting all of the room ready and having all of the equipment there? Making sure that the PAL shows up there on time with all of their equipment, and that they leave this space exactly how the organization wants the space to be left. And so, in some ways we again it was more of like a gentleman’s agreement as Sandy said. But we did have very specific procedures to follow in many of these spaces, even if we didn’t sign a document that said so. And we were more than happy to draft documents if more community partners would have needed them or would have wanted them. Or some community partners have them already, a lot of school districts already have joint use agreements. It’s just agreeing to sign that and making sure that the PAL knows that these are the procedures they need to follow. So but just making sure that there’s this very open and honest communication and you follow through with what you promise.
Garret Ross: So, I’m going to start off by we’re coining the phrase “get yourself a Sandy.” So, we just, I just want to make sure that it’s been recorded that we started that. So, moving on from that, there was two points I wanted to make sure to make. And one of them is gather a tribe. And really Sandy did an incredible job of that as well to, of gathering that tribe of individuals. And really, you know, as our group kind of had it, it was that CAB. That was, that were part of a tribe of individuals that were just as interested and dedicated in seeing the community move forward in health and wellness as our cheerleader was, Sandy. And so, getting those people around the table and creating that tribe and that understanding of everybody wanted to see that progress. I think that was really important to the motion.
Sandy Berto: Most people. If you ask them. And be open and kind about it. Most of the time people really do want their communities to get better, to be healthier, to be more positive. And I think one of the concerns that I have seen as a lifelong Ottumwan, is that several people are not asked, because they don’t either have large sums of money to put into play and that there are some people who are just indivisible. So, if those people who feel indivisible are asked, almost all the time, I can’t think of very many times somebody just outright told me no, they weren’t interested in it. Maybe that was my own perseverance. And you also have to make good eye contact. I have, you want to talk about quotes, I had a very favorite nurse who was a fabulous mentor, who told me that “people don’t care what you know until they know you care.” And I think in making people feel like you do care, and that they are very much a contributing member of their own community, I think that’s just huge. I think, personally.
Hannah Shultz: Thanks for joining us for another great conversation about Active Ottumwa. I don’t really have closing remarks because I don’t know what to say that will top Sandy’s final words there. So once again the passion, care, and dedication to this community shines through. Thank you, Garrett, Sandy, and Becky, for sharing your experiences and highlighting the great partnerships, businesses, spaces, and organizations that contributed to Active Ottumwa’s success. Thank you for tuning in. Thanks to the Midwestern Public Health Training Center for production support, the team at the University of Iowa Prevention Research Center for Rural Health, the Ottumwa community, and the many guests and contributors we talk with throughout these 10 episodes. See the podcast notes for more information about Active Ottumwa, and to connect with our team. This podcast is a product of the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research Center, supported by cooperative agreement number U48DP006389 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings and conclusions and this podcast are those of the contributors, and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.