Push to improve health of Rockingham Co. residents

REIDSVILLE, N.C. — They’re taking bad news with a grain of salt in Rockingham County.

The annual County Health Rankings & Roadmaps assessment survey saw the county slip from 78 to 83 when comparing North Carolina’s 100 counties.

“It was shocking to see it slip, but I’m hoping that you take one step back before you take five steps forward,” said Cindy Wall Sarwi, executive director of the United Way of Rockingham County.

That’s the positive outlook to the discouraging update, but many in Rockingham County are proud of the way community leaders have responded in the four years since the first report highlighted problems like poor eating habits and a lack of exercise.

“We can see our numbers slip but we’ve known in the last few years that we’ve been in the planning phase of how we’re going to attack these issues,” said Mark Wells, a Rockingham County resident.

That attack includes new programs in area schools that give students more options for physical education than just 30 minutes in the gym. Golf, dance and yoga have been added as options for students to get them more interested in getting fit.

There is also a student wellness program set up in the schools that allows students to be seen by a licensed nurse without ever leaving campus. Mental health help is also available through the program.

For the sizable elderly community, programs are now in place to help them get to doctor’s appointments more easily.

There’s also an emphasis on getting strong nutritional content onto the plates of Rockingham County residents. A virtual farmhouse has helped connect farmers with residents, which also helps the economy.

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust has noticed the improvements. On Wednesday, they honored health care providers, educators and other community leaders for making these changes and others improve the health of the community.

“The health of your community is everybody’s business,” said Karen McNeil-Miller, president of the trust.

The group will commit to helping Rockingham County and other rural areas that rank low on the list by investing about $150 million over the next 10 to 15 years in communities that would like to turn around dismal health report numbers.

In Rockingham County, that includes partnering with a playground equipment company and providing two new places to play. Kids will design the playgrounds and adults who live in the area will get to decide the best place for each addition.

A spokeswoman for Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust estimates those playgrounds will be in place sometime this summer.

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