Marshalltown named an All-America City finalist

Having the title of an All-America City once was so nice, Marshalltown hopes to receive it twice.

Marshalltown and 24 other cities across the United States were named All-America City finalists Wednesday, recognized by the National Civic League, for being a healthy community.

Michelle Spohnheimer, housing and community development director, applied for the award on behalf of the city.

“We felt this year’s round was a really good fit for us because we have so many things in the community associated with trying to improve the overall health of the community,” Spohnheimer said. “We featured three different projects the community has done to show success in healthy community type activities.”

The application highlighted the city’s Lead Hazard Control Program, the Teach Them to Swim Program and the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program.

The Lead Hazard Control Program offered since 2003 and funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, has helped low-income families in Marshalltown reduce lead based paint hazards in their home.

The program has decreased the rate of lead poisoned children by almost half.

“We’ve been able to assist probably close to 600 families in making their homes lead safe,” Spohnheimer said. “That means a lot of kids are in a healthy home and safe environment that will hopefully not become lead poisoned. That’s always been our goal and I think we’re accomplishing it.”

The Teach Them to Swim Program, a partnership between the YMCA-YWCA and Lenihan Intermediate School was piloted in July of 2012 after four children drowned in the Iowa River that summer.

The free, five-week program is offered to fifth-grade students that has had no previous swimming lessons and met the guidelines for the free and reduced school lunch program.

Since then, 270 children have participated and learned how to swim.

“The most gratifying outcome is seeing the children who might not otherwise have the opportunity, develop life skills, learn how to be safe in their environment and use community aquatic facilities,” said Carol Hibbs, CEO of the Marshalltown YMCA-YWCA.

The YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program (YDPP) launched in 2011, funded through different grants, is geared specifically for the minority population who are on the track of getting diabetes.

The program teaches healthy eating habits, lifestyle changes and is taught by bilingual instructors.

To date, 40 Hispanic/Latino people have participated in the program and total weight loss for the program has been about five percent.

“It’s changing their lives,” said Kim Schryver, community coach of Healthier Communications Coalition. “Many of the participants also informed us that the knowledge and strategies they have gained to improve their personal health is also being applied in efforts to positively impact the health of their families.”

The All-America City award is designated every year to different communities for different themes.

Spohnheimer and other Marshalltown representatives will go to Denver, Colo. June 13-15, to give a presentation and find out if they will be selected as a 2014 All-America City. Ten of the 25 finalists will be given the award.

“We’re all real excited about it,” Spohnheimer said. “I think it’s great for Marshalltown to be able to showcase the things we are doing.”

Once a city is awarded, it is declared an All-America City for five years.

Marshalltown was named an All-America City in 2012 for its campaign for grade level reading. Marshalltown was also an All-America City finalist in 2011.