Youngstown is one of 50 cities chosen as part of the new “Invest Health” initiative to improve the health outcomes of people living in mid-sized cities.

Through a $60,000 grant, provided through Reinvestment Fund and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, programs will be created that address factors that drive health.

The Youngstown team comprises representatives from  the Youngstown City Health District, Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, Youngstown State University Regional Economic Development Initiative, Mercy Health Foundation – Mahoning Valley, and Eastgate Regional Council of Governments and will work to reduce obesity and other chronic health disparities through improving infrastructure and the built environment and reduce long term developmental disabilities among children caused by substandard housing conditions.

Ian Beniston, executive director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation (YNDC), said chronic health issues such as asthma, triggered by mold, and lead exposure are just a couple examples of how poor housing can impact health.

“Our cross sector team is excited to continue our work to improve Youngstown neighborhoods and further enhance our strategies to improve health outcomes by strengthening neighborhood housing quality and infrastructure conditions,” Beniston said.

Another challenge on Beniston’s mind is the obesity rate in Youngstown. Right now, the numbers sit at 35 percent for men and 48 percent for women.

Playground and parks are a big part of attacking that problem for YNDC. The goal is to provide space for adults to exercise and for children to play. Recently, Homestead and Glenwood parks received a $75,000 grant from the William Swanston Charitable Fund for new gym equipment to promote physical activity, and with the  ‘Invest Health’ initiative, Beniston is hoping to see improvements at other parks in the city.

Project teams will travel to Philadelphia for a kick-off meeting on June 7 and will meet regularly to share lessons learned throughout the 18-month project.

Akron and Canton were also selected to participate.

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by Julie Bercik