Pictured, from left, are the new local staff for the Blue Zones Project – The Dalles. They are Dillon Melady, project manager, Taylor Smith, engagement lead, Leticia Valle, community program manager, and Brett Ratchford, organization lead.
The Blue Zones Project, a three-year well-being initiative begun in The Dalles this past spring, has hired its four locally-based staffers.
Leticia Valle, a former program manager for Nuestra Comunidad Sana – Health Promotion Services, a program of The Next Door, Inc., will serve as community program manager of the Blue Zones Project here.
She will be joined by Project Manager Dillon Melady, Engagement Lead Taylor Smith and Organization Lead Brett Ratchford.
Drawn from the Gorge and Pendleton areas, the team will be responsible for implementing programs and principles as The Dalles works toward Blue Zones Community Certification, according to a press release.
The Blue Zones Project is designed to make healthy choices easier through permanent changes to the built environment, policy, and social networks.
Changes that could come from the Blue Zones Project include Blue Zones restaurant menus with healthy choices, more sidewalks, and more emphasis on walking to school. Nearly empty bike racks at schools could become more crowded. Groups could meet over wine to socialize and learn about healthy living.
The project is patterned after the findings of a man who scoured the globe looking for communities with the highest concentrations of people living to 100 or more, and what the commonalities were for those groups.
He found not only the expected healthy eating and active lifestyles, but also people with spirituality, a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose.
Blue Zones seeks to make those kinds of behaviors easier to implement.
So far, Blue Zones has conducted interviews with individuals and groups, had experts study aspects of the town such as bikability and walkability, and sent out a well-being survey to establish a baseline for the community.
A steering committee will be formed, and a community kick-off event is planned for fall.
The Blue Zones program costs $833,000 a year for three years.
The local communities contribute $200,000 the first year and $300,000 a year for the final two years, and Blue Zones Project backers contribute the rest.
“The Gorge area residents are proud recipients of the 2016 Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health Prize and dozens of community leaders and engaged citizens are working on projects to bring positive change and improved well-being to our community,” Valle said in the release.
“It’s extremely exciting that Blue Zones Project – The Dalles is well-positioned to accelerate this forward movement, in partnership with other initiatives underway in the area,” she said.
“Being selected as one of Oregon’s newest Blue Zones Project demonstration communities is a result of The Dalles’ motivation to inspire people to live, work, learn and play in settings that better support health and well-being. This is the work I have dedicated my career to and I am honored to be part of a skilled team so focused on getting results for the people of The Dalles.”
Valle is a certified community health worker and a passionate advocate for social justice and improving the well-being of her community. She is a board member of the Columbia Gorge Health Council and serves as secretary for the Hood River Public Transportation Board.
She will direct the implementation of the Blue Zones initiative, working directly with advocates, leaders and volunteers, and helping drive policy priorities as set by the community.
Melady moved to The Dalles in summer 2016 to work as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer with North Central Public Health District.
His primary role was to coordinate Step It Up! The Dalles, a walking group program aimed at increasing social support and healthy lifestyles. In his role as project manager he will be responsible for planning, executing and finalizing projects while ensuring programs stay aligned with the initiative goals.
Smith previously worked as the healthy communities coordinator for Umatilla County Health Department, managing the UCo Plan4Health Initiative.
As the engagement lead, she will focus on driving communication efforts for the initiative while managing activities to inspire people to engage with Blue Zones Project practices and resources.
Ratchford previously worked at Blue Collar Agency in Hood River helping small and large organizations with their marketing and online advertising efforts. He has also worked in the city of Portland planning bureau on transportation and sustainability issues.
With broad experience in marketing and account management,Ratchford will be working directly with organizations across the region, including grocery stores, schools and worksites, helping them create settings that encourage improved well-being for those they serve.