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Trailnet- Healthy Active Vibrant Communities


Trailnet’s Healthy, Active, & Vibrant Communities Initiative (HAVC) is a model that uses community engagement and community development principles to empower communities to support and promote healthy eating and active lifestyles. The intent of this intervention is to build communities’ capacity to implement policy and environmental changes and build healthy social networks to address obesity. The HAVC Initiative is focused in low-income and at-risk communities, where the need is often greatest. HAVC activities are tailored to complement the unique assets, needs, and interests of each community.

Dissemination Category: Trailnet’s Healthy, Active, & Vibrant Communities is an emerging intervention based on its use of evidence-based strategies. Developed in practice, it shows promise but evidence in support of effectiveness is not yet available.

Intended Population: The HAVC Initiative has been implemented in three communities: rural De Soto, suburban Ferguson, and the urban neighborhood Old North St Louis. While the intended beneficiaries of the intervention are community residents, the primary target audience is the key leaders, stakeholders, and others with vested interest or leverage in the HAVC communities. In each community, these individuals are identified and recruited to serve on a local task force. Their efforts, commitment, and community connections are what make the HAVC initiative successful and eventually sustainable.

Setting: Community, with a focus on ethnically and racially diverse, low-to-middle income, suburban, rural, and urban neighborhoods

Background:  Trailnet is a non-profit community-based organization that has a twenty-year history of promoting active living in the St Louis area. In addition to the Healthy, Active & Vibrant Communities Initiative, Trailnet partners with communities in the St Louis region to develop bicycle and pedestrian master plans, provide education and outreach through initiatives like Safe Routes to Schools, sponsor bike rides and recreational events, and participate in planning, designing and improving the St. Louis regional trail system.

Trailnet developed the HAVC Initiative in response to lessons-learned working throughout the St. Louis region.  Previously, Trailnet had focused almost exclusively on creating and connecting a regional trail system and promoting active lifestyles through bicycle rides.  Although regional trails are important and highly-used amenities for physical activity, it became clear that more localized, community-scale infrastructure and urban design had the greatest impact on individuals’ daily physical activity.  In the last fifty years, the St. Louis region, like most of the country, has favored auto-centric regional and community design, resulting in limited opportunities for active living.  In addition, a study by the St. Louis University Prevention Research Center documented the disparities in access to healthy foods that exist throughout the St. Louis region. Furthermore, in low-income neighborhoods disparities in access to both physical activity and healthy eating options are greater. The HAVC Initiative aims to reduce obesity rates through community-scale interventions that improve access to healthy foods and opportunities for active living.

In 2006, Trailnet’s HAVC Initiative was launched by a two-year grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health (MFH) to work with four at-risk communities to develop the HAVC model to facilitate long-term changes through policy, the built environment, and healthy social networks. Five founding partners collaborated with Trailnet to select communities and develop the HAVC strategy: Grace Hill Settlement House, St. Louis County Department of Health, St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation, The US Green Building Council St. Louis Chapter, and Whittaker Homes. Although efforts were initiated in the four selected communities, active HAVC programming is being implemented in three of these. They are the City of De Soto (Get Healthy De Soto), the City of Ferguson (Live Well Ferguson!), and the Old North St. Louis neighborhood of St. Louis City.

Already, HAVC task forces have made positive impacts in their communities. In Fall 2008, De Soto and Ferguson became the first two Missouri municipalities to adopt Complete Streets ordinances. De Soto launched the first farmer’s market in Jefferson County in May 2009. During planning for the 14th Street Redevelopment project and the Jackson Park re-design, the Old North HAVC task force recommended bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly accommodations; many of these are being implemented through construction now underway. The successes of such HAVC projects allowed Trailnet to secure a three-year grant to continue the HAVC Initiative through MFH’s Model Practice Building grant program.

As a companion to work in their partner communities, Trailnet has published The Healthy, Active & Vibrant Community Toolkit to serve as a resource to task force members, regional leadership, and outside groups interested in developing their own local efforts.  The Toolkit is a comprehensive guide to implementing solutions based on best practices and lessons-learned from HAVC, and includes recommendations, case studies, mini-articles, and resources.

Additionally, Trailnet receives outside support on the HAVC Initiative from three teams contracted by the Missouri Foundation for Health as a means to further support foundation grantees.  The three teams have expertise in implementation, dissemination, and evaluation, respectively. With their assistance, dissemination and evaluation plans are being created.

Length of time in the field: Trailnet HAVC has been in the field since 2007.