Healthy Kids Initiative in Johnson County receives $50K grant

BY JOE HITCHON | JUNE 27, 2012 6:30 AM

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Local officials are applauding a new local grant awarded to the Healthy Kids Initiative that aims to establish health care for area children and encourage healthy eating, healthy lifestyles, and good hygiene.

"All of these efforts are directed at improving the health and wellness of our kids by making sure they have the healthiest options available to them," said Christine Scheetz, the president and CEO of United Way of Johnson County.

MidWestOne Bank announced Tuesday at its headquarters in downtown Iowa City that it will provide a grant of $50,000 to the United Way of Johnson County's Healthy Kids Initiative.

The grant was the result of an internal application process at MidWestOne to determine which community market to direct its effort toward and which cause to support. Following a committee review, the panel chose Johnson County's Healthy Kids Initiative as the winning project.

2011 was a record earning year for MidWestOne, now the fourth-largest bank in the state of Iowa; for President and CEO Charlie Funk, it was an opportunity to share that success.

"We decided that the more we earn, the more we will give back to the community," he said. "We give money to a lot of organizations, but after our record year in 2011, we wanted to do something meaningful that would have the largest impact on the community."

So the first MidWestOne Community Impact Grant was born.

The Healthy Kids Initiative was launched in 2007 in partnership with the United Way of Johnson County, the Johnson County Obesity Task Force, and the Healthy Kids Community Care school-based health clinics.

The grant will also support United Way's 2020 Vision goals for the Common Good program, which seeks to increase by one-third the number of children in the community who are healthy and avoid risk behavior.

The project envisions building gardens at schools, funding three farmer-produce fairs each year, and providing three fresh-fruit deliveries per year to local schools to educate students about nutrition.

Funk says MidWestOne also has the goal to have 100 percent of its employees involved in the community effort on a volunteer basis.

"We cannot prosper unless our community prospers, so this is our small way of giving back to a community that has given so much to us," he said.

One aspect of the grant will improve access to dental care for young people — local school officials say this is often an overlooked issue that can affect children's performance in class.

Stephen Murley, the superintendent of the Iowa City School District, said that while dental care may not seem very glamorous to fund, it's a very important aspect of the grant and for the segment of the population who do not have access to dental care.

"From the standpoint of teaching and learning, inadequate access to dental care is a significant obstacle for a child to overcome, and it will certainly interfere with his ability to learn in the classroom," he said.

Susie Poulton, the director of health services for the School District, said the Healthy Kids Initiative has benefited 1,200 children who did not have access to dental care elsewhere.

"Access to dental care for young people is a huge concern for families in our community, and this money will address that problem with screenings and dental care for those most in need," she said.

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