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Working Toward Wellness

Lee Steinmetz, county transportation planner, picks out fresh radishes and carrots.

Apply now for the 2018 Worksite Wellness Challenge, which aims to cultivate continual enterprise changes for a healthier Kaua‘i.

The sun is shining and the vegetables are aplenty on Historic County Building’s front lawn during a recent Tuesday morning. County employees stroll among vendors and thumb through bounties of radishes, carrots and liliko‘i. This Kaua‘i Sunshine Market, which allows county employees to pick up fresh, locally grown produce only steps away from their offices, was one of the many positive outcomes of Get Fit Kaua‘i’s 2016 Worksite Wellness Challenge.

“It’s better for everybody if we have healthier employees,” says Nalani Brun.

A county employee, Brun was instrumental in initiating this farmers market, and participated along with 1,000 other employees in 2016’s Worksite Wellness Challenge. The effort was all part of a program to encourage workplaces to implement more opportunities for physical activity, healthy nutrition and other actions that promote well-being and stave off disease.

The project was made possible through Get Fit Kaua‘i — a community organization that’s part of Hawai‘i Public Health Institute. Its mission is to promote active lifestyles and health through task forces like the Worksite Wellness Challenge. The objective of the challenge is for work places, which can have any number of employees, to fill out an initial “scorecard” pertaining to things like current activity levels and nutrition, and to have as many of their answers as possible change to more health-conscious responses at the end of a nine-month period.

Maggie Dabucol of Yasaka Farm is a regular vendor at Kaua‘i Sunshine Market, which takes place every Tuesday on the front lawn of the Historic County Building.

“You make as many healthy changes as you can,” says Karen Silver, Worksite Wellness Challenge’s leadership team chair.

Categories encompass more than just diet and exercise and include areas such as tobacco control, stress management and disease prevention. The team with the largest difference in their scores at the end of the challenge wins.

Though the county didn’t win the challenge in 2016, they made significant changes, including launching the Tuesday farmers market. Employees were also able to implement a policy mandating that every meeting must offer a healthy food option. Additionally, certain departments now allow their employees to have a 30-minute exercise break during the day that they make up for by staying a little bit later.

The county also created a “walking map” for employees that indicate healthy places to dine near their offices in Līhu‘e. And to complement this, county transportation planner Lee Steinmetz works on developing safer streets to allow for more employees to walk or bike around the neighborhood.

“If we’re going to encourage people to walk to a restaurant to eat lunch or to the farmers market, then we need to make sure we have the facilities in place so people can do that safely,” he says.

The farmers market — which features fresh vegetables, among other produce — is one of the many positive outcomes of Get Fit Kaua‘i’s 2016 Worksite Wellness Challenge.

Big changes were also implemented during the 2016 Worksite Wellness Challenge for smaller teams like YeeCorp Financial and Insurance Services, which won third place. It provided a private space for exercising at the office, as well as a shower and changing room for its staff. The group even created a policy for women who are breastfeeding to help support them within the work environment.

“Even if you make changes on a small level, it’s still good,” says Silver.

The overarching goal is to encourage companies to apply healthy policies intended to stay in place long after the Worksite Wellness Challenge is over. And Silver adds that even though the challenge may seem daunting, there are many policies workplaces can implement and not everyone needs to become a fitness guru — it’s also about other aspects of health, like encouraging people to go to the doctor or teaching employees how to spot signs and symptoms of a heart attack or stroke.

The Worksite Wellness Challenge began several years ago, at which point eight teams participated. It was so popular that Get Fit Kaua‘i members decided to restructure and refine the program before launching it again in 2016, when 17 entities joined in.

Liliko‘i is a popular option at the Tuesday farmers market.

“It was phenomenal,” says Get Fit Kaua‘i director Bev Brody.

Brody is still the power-house behind Get Fit Kaua‘i, which includes the Safe School Routes task force that encourages more keiki to walk or bike to school. In 2016, nearly 7,500 elementary school students participated. The organization also has action groups that initiate events like Bike to Work Day and the Rice Street Block Party. Brody, however, is currently focusing her energy on the upcoming Worksite Wellness Challenge, which she is enthusiastic about.

“Are you kidding? I’m stoked. I’m really, really excited,” she adds.

County employee John Kruse takes advantage of a recent Tuesday farmers market and stocks up on vegetables.

She admits shedding a few tears upon hearing 2016’s challenge results, which she also shared at American Public Health Association’s recent annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, in the hopes of spurring Mainland communities to execute the same program.

“The coolest thing that I’ve seen is the level of passion and excitement that people have going to work and being a part of something bigger — that part is super exciting,” Brody says.

Applications for the 2018 Worksite Wellness Challenge are currently being accepted until 15 teams have signed up or until Jan. 19. The challenge will take place from February to October, and scorecards can be filled out online beginning Jan. 2 at getfitkauai.com.

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