Free bikes, more parks and a web of walking paths will help some Central Florida cities get healthier in the next few months.
Healthy Central Florida, a partnership between Florida Hospital and the Winter Park Health Foundation, recently awarded $25,000 in grants to community partners who are ready to move forward with projects aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles in Winter Park, Eatonville and Maitland.
Ten projects were awarded the inaugural Health Innovation grants of $2,500 each to use in promoting good health at the community level.
Many of the projects receiving grants focus on walking or cycling and offer the opportunity for residents to feel more connected to their communities.
Maitland is focusing on adding marked walking paths throughout the city, including one at the Maitland Center Office Complex that will serve 14,000 employees and local residents.
All three communities will benefit from the creation of parklets, mini parks designed to link the communities together and create healthy destinations, headed by the Master’s Program in Civic Urbanism at Rollins College.
Faith groups are also stepping up to create a guidebook to be used by various churches and religious organizations, which outlines healthy practices congregations can implement.
The City of Winter Park is choosing to focus on two separate programs that officials hope will increase cycling in the city.
During popular community events, Winter Park will continue to host its bike valet program, with improvements such as new bike racks and banners made possible by the grant.
The program works like a car valet; bike owners check in their cycles with an attendant, knowing that their bikes are secure while they enjoy the festivities at events like the heavily attended Spring and Fall art festivals.
The Winter Park Public Library is adding a new bike check out service with its grant, which will enable the Library to purchase seven cruiser style bikes and one tandem bike that patrons will be able to check out for up to a day at a time.
Each bike checkout will include a helmet, lock, basket and light – everything needed to spend the day cruising the city in style – healthy style.
The library is partnering with Winter Park bike shop Breakaway Bicycles, which will provide the bikes at cost along with maintenance to keep the fleet in good order.
New library programs on cycling and bike safety will also roll out when the new service launches.
“We are very excited to get started on this,” said Ruth Edwards, director of the Lifelong Learning Institute. “We are starting small, but we would love to be able to expand it in the future. It will be a great way to help people stay healthy.”
Dommerich Elementary is using their grant to add Walking Safe to their Walk and Roll program to encourage safe walking and biking habits to and from school.
Eatonville will use the grant to review the town plans with a goal of increasing the walkability of the community.
Also in Eatonville, the Macedonia Missionary Baptist church will be promoting their bike program with helmet giveaways.
One of the most exciting new projects that will result from the grants is an app that is being developed by the UCF Institute of Government that will tie many of these programs together by offering residents a way to keep track of their healthy new habits and choices.
UCF doctoral candidate Michelle Gardner, whose studies focus on community engagement through technology, will be developing the app.
“It will be based on a non-monetary reward system for making healthy choices. If you can get [users] to engage through play, people are much more likely to have fun with it,” Gardner said.
All the projects are scheduled to launch sometime this fall.
“It is my goal that we will see a synergy between the grant projects,” Gardner said. “Soon you should be able to check out a bike at the Winter Park Library and use the app to register that healthy choice and get credit for it.”