A team of government and private sector organizations will receive a $60,000 grant and training in how to work across service sectors to improve the health of people in Roanoke’s northwest quadrant.

The team, made up of representatives from the city government, Roanoke College, Freedom First Credit Union, the United Way and the Local Environmental Agriculture Project, was selected to participate in the Invest Health initiative by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Reinvestment Fund.

The group will attend eight training sessions in different locations over a year and a half starting in June, said Roanoke College professor and community health researcher Liz Ackley-Holbrook.

They’ll bring what they learn back to Roanoke to help improve health in the Lansdowne public housing development and the Loudon-Melrose and Shenandoah West neighborhoods.

That neighborhood is the latest targeted by the city for improvements to housing and infrastructure by the city using federal Housing and Urban Development funds, and redevelopment of Lansdowne is the subject of a Choice Neighborhoods application to HUD that seeks millions of dollars to change and improve the public housing.

Existing focus on that part of the city has “given us a road map already,” said Ackley-Holbrook, the project team leader. The question is, “How do we leverage the capital that’s needed to see it through?”

The team members represent multiple sectors , including government , nonprofits , banking and higher education. The idea is to learn how to address health issues across all those sectors by working together, Ackley-Holbrook said.

She said Roanoke is among the most challenged localities in Virginia when it comes to health behaviors and quality of life. Areas in the northwest and southeast parts of the city suffer from minimal access to healthy foods and are underserved medically.

Some of the $60,000 will be used to cover travel expenses of team members to training with international experts, Ackley-Holbrook said. The rest will leveraged to fund projects in the target neighborhood.

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by Matt Chittum