The Dalles Blue Zones Project, a community wellness endeavor, has asked to extend its funding deadline to August, and hopes to band together with two other Blue Zones Projects in the state to seek grant funds.

Most of the $833,000 yearly cost of the project is paid by Cambia Health Solutions, the non-profit parent company of health insurer Regence, but the local community had to contribute $200,000 the first year, and must pay $300,000 to fund each of the two final years of the three-year project.

The project is well into its second year, and faced an original deadline of having commitments for local funds in hand by March, according to Dr. Mimi McDonell, co-chair of the Blue Zones sustainability committee in The Dalles. But the local project is still $192,000 short of needed funding for the second and third years.

An appeal was made to Cambia’s funding arm to delay those commitments until August, and McDonell hopes to get an answer on that request next week.

She hopes to be able to appeal to The Dalles City Council and the Wasco County Commission for funding. Wasco County made a $8,600 one-time contribution the first year.

The Dalles has not provided funding. Blue Zones asked The Dalles for money during the last budget cycle, but pulled out of contention when they learned they were up against The Dalles Main Street for the same pot of money. Blue Zones asked the city for money a second time last fall, but were turned down because the year’s budget was already decided.

In December, the four Oregon communities that are Blue Zones Projects met to compare notes.

Klamath Falls has completed its three-year project and has continued working with the Blue Zones organization. The three others — The Dalles, Roseburg and Grants Pass — found that they were all having funding problems, McDonell said.

They decided it made less sense to pursue smaller donations than to go as a group to major foundations, like the Meyer Memorial Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to seek a statewide funding pledge, she said.

McDonell said The Dalles is a generous community, but one of the reasons it was named a Blue Zones Project was because of demonstrated need, and part of that need is financial.

The December meeting of the four projects in Oregon included sharing ideas. Klamath Falls, for example, has an online farmers market where local farmers post products for sale and local buyers make purchases.

“I’m very excited to look into that,” McDonell said.

The Blue Zones mission is to make “the healthy choice the easy choice.” Local efforts have included establishing get-togethers, leading find-your-purpose workshops and certifying restaurants and workplaces that promote health. It has also been a leader in the project to improve traffic and pedestrian circulation at Dry Hollow Elementary.

McDonell said another Blue Zones community in Oregon has seen many small groups—called moais by the Blue Zones Project—form. An overriding goal of Blue Zones, whose mission is for people to lead longer, healthier lives, is to boost socializing.

The walking groups it promotes, for example, are just as much about getting together with others as they are about getting exercise.

Blue Zones is based on the work of a man who found five places across the world with the highest concentrations of people living to 100, and studied what led to that longevity. In the communities he dubbed Blue Zones he found nine key commonalities, including things like eating a plant-based diet, moving naturally, and having social connections and a purpose in life.

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