SITKA - After five successful years, the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Steps to a Healthier Southeast Alaska program closed on Dec. 21 after its federal grant expired.
Over the past five years, the Steps program awarded 77 grants worth just over $1.1 million to fund projects in 12 Southeast Alaska communities. During the Alaska Health Summit luncheon on Dec. 9 in Anchorage, the Alaska Public Health Association honored the Steps program with the Alaska Community Service Award.
"Overall, the Steps initiative helped build capacity within communities, worksites and schools to work collaboratively, to plan evidence-based programs, and to monitor and evaluate program success," Steps Grant Manager Grace Brooks said. "Steps also contributed to an overall increased understanding of the importance of policy in supporting community, school and workplace health."
The Steps program's goals were to increase opportunities for physical activity, improve nutrition and reduce the impact of tobacco in Southeast Alaska. The program also worked to reduce diabetes, obesity and asthma in Southeast communities. To accomplish its goals, Steps developed partnerships with schools, worksites, tribes and other community groups so they could change social norms and policies, and make evidence-based and culturally relevant interventions. In addition to funding community projects, Steps helped organize the Sitka Health Summit for three years and last year's Juneau Health Summit, events that allowed participants to set their own community health and wellness priorities and then design action plans for those priorities. The Steps program also hosted conferences and workshops to help programs learn how to work in collaboration with each other.
The Steps program used the socio-ecological model, which emphasizes that an individual's health status is influenced not only by his or her own attitudes and practices, but also by personal relationships and community and societal factors. Nearly half of the 77 Steps grants (37) went to community projects, with the others geared toward school and worksite wellness efforts. More than three-quarters of the grants (60) focused on improving nutrition and/or increasing physical activity. Together, the projects reached 128,000 people (with many people reached by multiple projects) in the communities of Angoon, Craig, Haines, Hoonah, Hydaburg, Juneau, Kake, Kasaan, Klawock, Klukwan, Sitka and Wrangell.
"Over the past five years, Southeast Alaska has seen a decrease in tobacco usage, an increase in clean indoor air, an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption and a decrease in obesity," Brooks said. "In a survey of Steps partners and grantees, more than half said they are continuing the programs and work started with Steps assistance."