Three months after the endeavor was launched in February, organizers and participating residents say they have already seen a change in attitudes, leading to more active and healthier lifestyles.
On Saturday, more than 150 people signed up to attend a cooking class called “See It, Make It, Eat It” that was conducted at the Edge Kitchen off Jiles Road by instructors to teach people how to prepare healthy foods. Foods included cauliflower pizza, quinoa and black bean salad, and banana ice cream.
“I want to get healthy,” said participant Jeanette Lyons, 44, of Kennesaw, who said she has so far lost 20 pounds.
“I have asthma and I started out with the Fit City walk-run. I have moved up to running now. I’m getting healthier, dropping weight and my family is getting healthier. Everybody is getting healthier.”
Kennesaw City Councilwoman Cris Eaton-Welsh said she has noticed more and more of her fellow city residents exercising past the front door of her home on Main Street.
“People are running, walking and being more active in Kennesaw than they were even three years ago,” she said.
It was Eaton-Welsh, a chiropractor and Cobb Chamber Health Committee member, who after speaking with other committee members, spearheaded the effort to start a community-wide health initiative in Kennesaw. Charlotte; Indianapolis; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Tualatin, Ore. outside Portland, are among other cities with similar fitness challenges.
“What we realized was that a lot of small businesses didn’t have a corporate wellness program like they do if you work for the city of Kennesaw, Georgia Power or something like that,” Eaton-Welsh said. “So we were like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to do a corporate wellness program for the whole city?’”
On Feb. 4, the program was kicked-off with free health screenings, including cholesterol, weight, blood pressure and body mass index checks, for Kennesaw residents. Hundreds of people attended. Since then, 5K road races and other events such as the one on Saturday, promoting an active lifestyle, have taken place, with more to come. In December, a closing ceremony will assess how far participants have come.
The events and services are provided for free to city residents and available to nonresidents for a nominal fee. Participants have access to a Facebook page and website with videos, blogs and tips.
The entire program, which was approved by the City Council with Mayor Mark Mathews’ support, has not cost city taxpayers a dime, said Eaton-Welsh. She said sponsors have contributed toward various expenses, such as T-shirts and advertising, associated with the initiative. In total, roughly $700 has been spent, she said.
Sponsors and partners include Big Peach Running Company, WellStar, Atlanta Hawks, American Heart Association, Life University, American Cancer Society, Kaiser Permanente, Mopdog and the Atlanta Track Club.
“There is absolutely a zero budget for it,” Eaton-Welsh said. “No city dollars are being used at all. It’s completely a public-private partnership.”
Lyons said the city government’s interest in the personal lives of its residents doesn’t bother her.
“I’m all for less government but this isn’t really government, it’s more community,” she said. “It’s coming together as a community to make our community healthier.”
Her fitness buddy, Barbara Borden of Kennesaw, agreed. The community aspect of the program is what drew her, she said.
“That’s what I enjoy – that I’m among friends,” said Borden, 52
Eaton-Welsh said she hopes that Fit City Kennesaw will be the catalyst for a grassroots health and fitness movement throughout the city.
“This first year, it’s really about creating an awareness,” she said. “Next year we want to parlay that into people taking what they’ve learned and teaching their neighbors.”
The next Fit City Kennesaw event will be the Dream Dash 5K at 7 a.m. June 16 in downtown Kennesaw, which is part of the Kennesaw Grand Prix Series of 5K races. For more information, visit www.fitcitykennesaw.com.