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NDSU faculty members receive funding for community health projects

Posted on 8/13/2013

Two NDSU faculty members were recent recipients of nearly $100,000 in grant funding to implement projects aimed at improving community health.

Julie Garden-Robinson, professor and Extension food and nutrition specialist, and Jenny Linker, assistant professor in the School of Education, lead two of the nine projects receiving funding through the Dakota Medical Foundation's Breakthrough Idea Challenge program, which was launched in January 2012 to inspire nonprofits and people in the region to spark bold, innovative and original solutions to tough health problems.

A total of $50,000 was awarded to the NDSU Extension Service to implement the FaithCommunitiesAlive! program to create healthy eating and active living for area faith communities.

North Dakota has the second-highest rate of religious adherence in the United States, suggesting faith-based wellness initiatives can make a powerful connection with a large portion of the community, Garden-Robinson said.

She said the Cass County Extension Office and Fargo Cass Public Health have been engaging the faith community for several years to raise interest in the program. "We're excited for this opportunity," Garden-Robinson said. "We have partners from many different churches and from within the community. The goal is to create sustainable changes on policy and environmental levels."

The program will reach out to churches and parish nurses in Cass and Clay counties to enlist them in inspiring healthy eating and active living by creating faith settings supportive of healthy choices. The program will teach, build a peer network of healthy parishes, and give prototype policies and practices to spark healthful eating and physical activity for the well-being of people within the faith community.

A training session with area faith leaders has been scheduled to begin implementing the program, Garden-Robinson said.

Linker and Kristen Hetland, chair and assistant professor of physical education and health pedagogy at Concordia College, Moorhead, received $45,000 for the SchoolsAlive! program, which is aimed at creating a wide-reaching physical activity program for elementary students, teachers and mentors before, during and after school to prevent childhood obesity.

The faculty members are working with faculty and staff at West Fargo elementary schools to give them different strategies to help youth reach the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. They began laying the groundwork for the program last year and the grant will expand their efforts. "This year we're really taking a holistic approach and implementing the entire program," Linker said.

Recess supervisors will gain skills to proactively manage playgrounds and reinforce positive behaviors. Local youth organization staff will be taught how to implement appropriate activities and effective routines to improve before- and -after-school programs. "We also are providing professional development for classroom teachers to facilitate use of a variety of tools in their curriculum to promote activity," Linker said.

Undergraduate physical education students will help put the Comprehensive School Physical Activity Programs in action via a service-learning course.

A total of $350,000 in funding was distributed through the Breakthrough Idea Challenge program. A review committee of physicians, nurses and community leaders evaluated ideas brought forth by 76 prospective projects. They gave select finalists assistance to shape their ideas and steer them toward collaborative partners who might reinforce their work.

For more information on the Breakthrough Idea Challenge program, visit

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