Recognizing the work that Thrive Allen County has accomplished since 2007 to improve access to physical activity, healthy food and medical care, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas is providing the coalition a grant to take its work to the next level.

Blue Cross is providing Thrive Allen County with a $75,000 Trailblazer for a Healthy Kansas grant that will allow the coalition to develop innovative activities that address social determinants that may currently be barriers to healthy living such as housing environments, access to healthy communal settings and economic stability.

“Thrive Allen County has done a tremendous amount of work during the past ten years to improve access to healthier living for residents, for which we congratulate them,” said Virginia Barnes, director of Blue Health Initiatives. “Through this Trailblazer grant we are encouraging them to take that experience and know-how to the next level, and to look at barriers that prevent communities from making the healthy choice the first choice.

“Ultimately, our hope is that Thrive Allen County will identify those key barriers and find solutions for removing them that may then be applied by other community coalitions in Kansas,” Barnes said.

According to David C. Toland, CEO of Thrive Allen County, the coalition will be specifically looking at innovative approaches to increase tobacco-free housing, peer-to-peer smoking cessation programs and healthy community events, as well as new strategies to connect large employers to services such as affordable housing and local day care.

“We are honored to partner with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas to design and implement new approaches to help rural Kansans live healthier, better lives. Trailblazer is a great way for Thrive to build on a decade’s worth of aggressive action to improve health, and is a perfect fit with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas’ vision of a healthy Kansas,” Toland said.

Thrive Allen County has been instrumental in creating a culture of health in Allen County. The coalition has successfully pursued policy statements and environmental changes in the county ranging from the construction of two new trail systems, to passing the first Tobacco 21 policy in a rural community (third in the state of Kansas), to recruiting a new grocery store to the heart of Iola.

The Trailblazers for a Healthy Kansas grant runs from Feb. 1, 2017 to Jan. 31, 2018, and includes regular coordination between Thrive Allen County and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas to assure success of the efforts.