I’ve been picking up litter on my street lately. A plastic bag here, a cup there, an empty donut box. I innocently picked up a beer bottle to put in the recycling bin, only to realize, as I passed a few neighbors, that I was now toting a beer bottle at 7 a.m., on my way back from dropping my kid at the bus stop. Maybe this didn’t carry the whiff of upright citizen I was going for?
I’ve been on my litter mission after a conversation I had with my daughter. I’d been grumbling about the trash, and she pointed out, “It’s your neighborhood, too.” I’d been so annoyed about the garbage, I’d missed something important: my own power to change a community.
A recent study highlights the idea of the power we all possess to make a difference. Working with researchers from Tufts, a group of Boston women at risk of heart disease formed a “Change Club” and boosted not only their own health but also that of their community. For this week’s Healthy Habits, let’s look at the concept of a Change Club. It might inspire you to start your own.
Change for Heart Health
For the Boston study, researchers collaborated with four local churches in predominantly Black/African American neighborhoods, and together, they identified health concerns in their respective communities. Groups of 28 women –overweight and mostly sedentary—formed Change Clubs. Each club had a goal, such as boosting access to heart-healthy foods, or educating their neighborhood about healthy eating habits. After six months of weekly meetings, each group had pretty impressive results, such as a new monthly cooking demonstration program for their neighborhood, and a heart-healthy cookbook. They women were healthier individually, too, with lower blood pressure and better times on a walk test.
Change for Random Acts of Kindness
New Hope Assembly of God Church, in Elizabeth, Penn., has a Change Club that it uses for an outreach ministry. The club collects spare change from the congregation and uses it to bring hope with generous, surprise acts, such as paying for gas, groceries or making Easter baskets for a family in need.
Change for Mental Health
At North Tahoe High School in Nevada, teens, teachers, parents and community members come together for a Change Club that helps train teenage peer advocates on issues of mental health. They take on bullying, anxiety, violence, suicide, depression, and more, and learn how to develop awareness events and campaigns to help others.
Civic engagement and empowerment in a change club works two ways: there’s a positive effect not only on the community, but also a boost for the people participating in the club. So what kind of change club will you form?