OKLAHOMA CITY—Understanding the important value and sense of community schools bring to Oklahoma towns and the important role they play in helping shape a more safe and healthy Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Fit Kids Coalition and the American Heart Association have joined forces on The Shared Use Project aimed at turning Oklahoma schools back into community hubs once again.
On Thursday, Sept. 27, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., the American Heart Association and the Oklahoma Fit Kids Coalition will gather community members together at the Jackson County Health Department to provide them with lunch and free resources and information on the Shared Use Project.
New legislation signed into law by Governor Fallin in May, SB 1882, authored by Senator Greg Treat and Representative Fred Jordan, paves the way for schools to keep their facilities open to the public by limiting liability and the fear of costly lawsuits that have forces schools to turn their lights out in recent years.
Amber England, director of the OK Fit Kids Coalition said schools across the state have long served as hubs of activity, connecting families and creating a powerful sense of community pride for Oklahomans.
“Schools are the heart and soul of Oklahoma communities. They are a natural and safe place for families to gather and be active together,” England said. “For too long fear of costly lawsuits has forced schools to turn their lights out and lock their doors. Increasing the number of shared use agreements will once again allow schools to show the value they bring to Oklahoma communities beyond their most vital mission of educating every child.”
Government Relations Director for The American Heart Association’s Southwest Affiliate Marilyn Davidson went on to explain during the same time schools were closing their doors, and limiting access to safe places for Oklahomans to play and be active the health of Oklahomans has been on a decline. She pointed out that:
- Oklahoma ranks 48th in overall health,
- One in three Oklahoma children is overweight or obese,
- Oklahomans are among the least physically active in the nation, and
- People who have access to safe places to play and be active exercise 38 percent more than those who do not.
“The more we can do to open publicly-funded recreational facilities to more people the better,” Davidson said. “Too often, a lack of access to facilities and equipment can be a barrier for community groups that want to provide their members with a way to be physically active. Finding ways to open our schools to the community groups gives residents that place they’ve been looking for to get active and reduce their risk for heart disease and stroke.”
David Braddock, former Oklahoma State Representative, co-Chair of Jackson County Community Health Action Team is excited about the Shared Use Project kicking off in Jackson County and understands the value shared use agreements will bring to southwestern Oklahoma and the roles schools play in creating healthier and safer communities.
“JCCHAT’s mission is to promote strategies that will ignite a culture of healthy lifestyles where we live, work and play,” Braddock said. “Rural southwestern Oklahoma does not have to include limited access to physical activity opportunities. We have facilities that can provide a safe environment for families to play through school playgrounds. Jackson County residents routinely come together for a common cause. With this new legislation, our common cause approach will protect those involved while providing an avenue for more active and healthier lives.”
JCCHAT Nutrition & Fitness co-Chair Haley Rinkenbaugh (JCMH Dietitian) agrees that physical activity plays an important role in health and wellness for all ages, not just youth.
“These shared facilities have the opportunity to become the heart of the community, a place where people can come together and support each other in making healthier choices. Many people will state that they are unable to complete physical activity daily due to facility limitations in their area,” Rinkenbaugh states. “The shared use agreement can change that perception and allow barriers to be broken. Since these facilities are already available, communities can begin to make healthier choices now and see changes!”
Those in attendance will receive toolkits loaded onto flash drives that contain all the resources they need to work with their communities and schools to create shared use agreements. Registration is free, lunch will be served and everyone is welcome to attend these community forums. The registration form is available online at www.fitkidsok.org/our-projects/shared-use/.