Transition in Action: Jenny Williams

10273748_10152057847797245_1706456739200669420_n1.     Who are you, and what’s your role at your organization?

I am Jenny Williams, chair of Pathfinders of Perry County

2.     How does your organization contribute to improving health in the region?

Pathfinders is a non-profit citizen action group that promotes community well-being, engagement, outdoor recreation, and education in Perry County, Kentucky. Basically, we work to get people out and moving, and to provide the infrastructure and opprotunities for them to do so. We also love to eat and cook healthy food, and through a United Way grant, we have been able to provide a series of Healthy Kids Cooking Classes to our community. We collaborate with other stakeholders to offer wellness activities, like our Liberty Street Community Wellness Day, and our Friday Fun Club, which meets most Fridays and engages middle schoolers in physical activity and community service. We are also key partners in the River Arts Greenway, a walking and biking path in downtown Hazard. The first phase [of the Greenway] was funded by a 2014 ArtPlace America grant, and we are actively seeking funding to continue building, even as we offer programming and events on the current site.

3.     Can you share one inspiring story about improving community health from the work you’ve done?

I really love working with kids, because it feels like that makes the biggest impact. It’s an uphill battle and often feels like a Sisyphean task to convince most of the grown-ups I know to stop smoking or to exercise more or to eat more dark green leafy vegetables, but kids are different. They’re so open to new ideas, and even when it seems like they’re not paying attention, I believe we make an impact. We were doing a cooking class last fall using Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Cook” curriculum. The idea was that the kids would make this healthy version of macaroni and cheese, with pumpkin and broccoli added for vitamins and minerals, and after tasting it, they’d take it home to share with their families. Each child had a container that held four servings. When we’d tasted it and then packed it into containers, I said “Okay, put the lids on and you can take it home!” The kids looked at me like I was crazy, and grabbed forks and tucked in, because they thought it was so delicious. I believe that the kids who come through our cooking classes will carry the important lessons they learn throughout their lives: trying new things, intentionally putting love into homemade foods to share, and carefully choosing ingredients for optimal health of the environment and our bodies.

4.     Why is community health important to you and how do you think it impacts or influences community development?

Community health is a broad term, for me. It means the health of our individual bodies—we must feel good and strong so that we can do the important work of living and learning and working; the health of our families—we need to nurture systems that allow families to access and eat healthy foods together, and to engage in activities that strengthen the family unit; and the health of our community—poor health costs us more than money, but the financial drain of an unhealthy community, placed on top of an economy that is in active collapse, is too much to bear. If we want to build a new economy and create just transitions to a healthier, wealthier, happier future, it’s essential that we make community health a priority.

Jenny Williams is an English professor at Hazard Community and Technical College in Hazard, Ky. She is board chair of Pathfinders of Perry County, which is partnering with to build the in downtown Hazard.