Visions of vibrancy

Purdue Extension Community Wellness Coordinator Linda Adams works with Southport and Indianapolis officials to create a plan for a healthier community

Linda Adams stands at the corner of Southport Road and Second Street, a spot that will be observed during the walk audit at the Active Living Workshop. *Photo by Nicole Davis

Healthy people and vibrant communities go hand-in-hand. When you make it easier for people to be healthier, the entire community benefits in multiple ways, says Perry Township resident Linda Adams.

Through her work with the Purdue Extension as Community Wellness Coordinator the the Southside of Indianapolis, Linda has spent her time working with residents and community leaders to find ways to make the Southside a healthier, more vibrant place for everyone.

“Together, we can accomplish great things,” Linda said. “One person can do a lot, but when you have a team and it’s across a community, you can be so much more effective.”

What exactly does the Southside need to be healthier? Linda, with the help of Southport and Indianapolis city leaders, has organized a Greater Southport/Perry Township Active Living Workshop to brainstorm and plan just that. The workshop will take place June 6, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Southport United Methodist Church, 1947 E. Southport Rd. Those interested in joining should register at surveymonkey.com/r/GreaterSouthportALW by May 30.

“I think this is extremely important as we look at the interests and desires of the people living in the cities, particularly the millennials and baby boomers, which are usually polar opposites,” said Allie Kast, Southside Neighborhood Advocate for the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office. “They are both drawn to cities and towns that are more walkable. The more we can make the area more walkable, the more it will benefit both generations. On the Southside, we have one of the most un-walkable areas. I think this is a step towards that. Once we create the plan, we’ll have it drawn out with action steps. Hopefully we can present that to both Southport and Indianapolis. To have these plans drawn up and created, we’re more likely to get the funding for it and actually make it happen.”

Linda grew up in Chicago, in a town like she imagines the Southside could be – a walkable community where residents could easily get around. Her family moved to West Lafayette when she was in high school. She later went to Purdue University as a liberal arts major. After college, she worked as a co-manager for Kroger before going to the Arnett Clinic System where she was a health information manager.

She and her husband, Jason, eventually moved to Ohio for his job. Linda became a stay-at-home mom to their five children for 14 years.

The family moved to Perry Township four years ago, when she went back to work as a nutrition assistant for Purdue Extension. There, she would teach senior citizens who were SNAP (food stamp) eligible how to read nutrition labels, how to be safe in their kitchen and how to stretch a budget.

“We found a lot of people in our class were interested in nutrition,” Linda said. “It wasn’t easy. Access to food was limited. Some didn’t drive and had to wait for people to take them. Sometimes you want to be healthy and physically active but that might not be your reality. You can’t walk to the store because it’s not safe or there are no grocery stores. The only thing you have to choose from is a convenience store that doesn’t have a lot available… So the Purdue Nutrition program decided it would change its program.”

Purdue Extension still has its nutrition education program, but has added community wellness coordinators with a goal to have representatives in each county in Indiana. There are three in Marion County.

“We’re supposed to go into a community, assess what’s going on there from a physical activity, nutrition standpoint,” Linda said. “We gather together other community leaders, city officials, nonprofits. Here, I work with Franciscan Health, Community Hospital, Baxter Y, the public health department. We joined the Healthy Southside Initiative. The plan is to take those needs and develop action plans that will help make it easier for people to make the healthy choice. Some counties are working to make food pantries healthier. Others, like over in Hendricks County, they converted all of the vending machines in county facilities to have healthy items. The big thing is making the healthy choice the easy choice, or making it a choice to begin with.”

One such project, Linda is working with Adult and Child Health on Madison Avenue in its project to start a community garden for Burmese residents. With 20 raised beds, half are assigned to residents who sign up and produce from the other half will go to food pantries which have Burmese clients.

Last year, Linda began working with the cities of Southport and Indianapolis to apply for a grant to host the active living workshop. Seven communities across Indiana were approved this year, including the Greater Southport/Perry Township area. A planning team has formed to organize the workshop, which will include presentations on the benefits of active living, a walking audit of nearby infrastructure after which participants will get together and identify active living goals for the community.

“This is my fifth project with Linda,” Kast said. “She is by far the most organized and driven person that I have met in this job. She is one of the most important players on the Southside right now when it comes to creating a stronger, more vibrant, healthier community. She has been extremely helpful when it comes to working with the Chin population. She’s taking this idea (the workshop), something that’s never been done in Marion County before, and making it happen and hopefully making it the most successful one they’ve ever had. She really cares a lot about it.”

Linda said the Southside’s greatest need is improved infrastructure to make it easier to walk and bike. While it’s hard to create park-like environments in a city that’s already fully-developed, the way to simulate that is through infrastructure, such as the cultural trail that goes through Fountain Square. What exactly the Southside needs, will come about through ideas at the upcoming workshop.

“Everyone wants the same thing for the community,” Adams said. “It’s so fun to go in and help make those things happen. Everybody has been very open and willing to help. When you go to these workshops you find that everyone, no matter where they live, they want their community to be such that they can walk around more. It’s really encouraging when you see people come together and they have the same ideas. Then it’s more likely to have the public will to make projects become a reality.”

Linda said they will spend the following nine months after the workshop to see which ways they can implement the ideas that come from it.

“For some communities, the workshop is a starting point,” Linda said. “Here in Perry Township, it’s not a starting point. It’s a continuation and momentum builder of all of the work the Greater Southside Business Alliance, Madison Avenue Redevelopment Commission and Southport Redevelopment Commission has done over the last decade. They laid the ground work. Now it’s time to capitalize in the groundwork and continue the vision.”