The Dalles was the first of 42 Blue Zones Project communities nationwide to use crowdfunding as a way to help meet the local contribution for the three-year well-being initiative, an official said.

Over a year ago, a local OSU extension agent who focuses on public health issues heard about a chance to apply to become a Blue Zones Project community.

Winning the designation would bring a locally-hired staff of four to the town for three years with a budget of $2.5 million and a sweeping goal of helping the town’s citizens live longer, happier lives by making healthier choices easier.

The Dalles was one of three Oregon communities to apply, and all were so strong that funders, who initially planned to pick just one, eventually chose all three.

At a kickoff event last week, Aaron Patnode, executive director of Blue Zones Project Oregon, said The Dalles stood out for being the first nationwide to use crowdfunding.

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.

Of the local funding, $2,300 came from individuals, said Lauren Kraemer, the OSU extension agent. “It just showed interest from a broad range of community folks … who wanted to say with their 25 or 50 bucks, ‘I believe in this,’” she said. It was her idea to start a gofundme page for the funding.

“I’m really thrilled,” she said of The Dalles earning the project designation. “This is a long time coming. I’m excited to get started.”

She asked people to “stay tuned and get involved.”She noted the Blue Zones The Dalles Facebook page went live two weeks ago.

She said she would take a mental picture of where the town is now, and then look at it in three years, to see what changes the project made, and then in 10 years, to see what changes were lasting.

The Blue Zones Project is based on the work of a man who searched the globe for where people lived the longest, and found five “longevity hotspots.” These long-lived groups had certain commonalities that included not only eating healthy and being active, but also staying connected with family and friends, having life purpose and spirituality, and even drinking wine daily.

Oregon Healthiest State, the entity spearheading the project, said in an earlier press release that “more than 70 percent of our health is influenced by our behaviors and surroundings, while just 30 percent is influenced by genetics and access to health care. That 70 percent is where Oregon Healthiest State focuses its attention.”

The project addresses well-being on all levels – physical, mental, emotional, social, financial and sense of purpose.

In fact, in Klamath Falls, Oregon’s first Blue Zones Project site, “purpose meetings,” where people gather for help in either finding a purpose or in honing one they already have, have proven extremely popular.

Patnode said Klamath Falls had a goal of hosting 500 people at such meetings in the three-year project, but only halfway through, has already hosted 1,000 people.

“That’s a really profound thing because it can have an effect on their whole life,” he said.

What he likes to see in Blue Zones communities is when people agree to try something. The approach of the Blue Zones Project is that health is not something to be “pursued,” but something that naturally “ensues” in a supportive environment.

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.

To kick off the Blue Zones Project work in The Dalles last week, leaders conducted a series of focus groups to get local input on five areas, including policy, schools, worksites, faith-based contributions, and individual engagement.

Patnode was happy with the turnout at the focus groups.

Coming soon will be a policy summit, one-on-one meetings, and a community wellness survey. The result, in about six months, will be a detailed blueprint of how the community wants to pursue wellness.

A community kickoff event is planned for fall, and about 1,000 people are expected to show.

A short video played at the kickoff featured comments from people in Klamath Falls, which is over a year into its own Blue Zones Project. One person said the project was like “riding a rocket ship of community well-being.”

Other Blue Zones Project towns have reported lower tobacco use, more water consumption, and lower insurance costs because of fewer sick employees.

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