Challenge Grant, BCBSLABy Tina Dirmann

BCBSLA Foundation Staff Writer

Earlier this week, we posted a blog highlighting the close of our audacious Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant program. Challenge Grant, launched three years ago, was our attempt to kick-start a wellness movement across the state. The goal? In short, improve healthy eating habits and increase physical activity. And in the process, perhaps we’d see a slide in our region’s high obesity rates, high blood pressure, high cholesterol. Maybe even diminish diabetes. Indeed, we believed we could change the mindset of entire communities, helping them find ways to reject lethargy and embrace healthier living. We backed up our bravado with a $10.2 million investment, launching 12 new wellness projects touching parishes throughout Louisiana (and challenging our non-profit project partners to match our investment in dollars or services – a move that ultimately raised $27 million in this crusade for better health).


And now that our seed money has been planted, it’s time to assess our work and ask the ultimate question – did we do it? Did we live up to our own expectations?

In short, did we make a difference?

It’s easy to believe so. Our regular blog reports chronicled the birth and growth of numerous healthy living initiatives, using a mix of innovative approaches (more on those in our upcoming blog series) and traditional tactics.  We used a multi-pronged approach to touch as many lives as possible, but particularly those residing in underserved neighborhoods. And while not all of our programs were instant successes, most were embraced by our target communities.

Like the free health fairs created to offer health screenings and flu shots. Recall Jena Band of Choctaw Indian Chief Cheryl Smith as she proudly watched 90 of her 294-member tribe crowd into the band’s administrative center back in 2013 for shots and screening tests (an important milestone, she said, because her fellow Choctaws typically shun doctors and clinics, despite some startling health statistics: 40% of the community fights a chronic illness, 22.6% grapples with type 2 diabetes).

Tribal Member Janie Fisher, Choctaw Indian, Louisiana
Tribal member Janie Fisher receives a flu vaccination. Photo Credit: The Jena Times

“They may not go to a doctor,” Smith told us at the time of the Live Lively LaSalle sponsored event, “but they’ll come here because it’s easy and convenient. And also because it’s a happy get-together for everyone.”

And months later, during one Dare to be Healthy “Know You Numbers” screening in Lake Charles, an estimated 300 people turned out for blood pressure and cholesterol readings. We remember Arlene, 53, who showed up at the urging of her more health conscious 82-year-old father. And sure enough, father knows best – her numbers came back much higher than she expected.

“This really needs to go down,” a hospital staffer told her. “Really down.”Salvage Garden, BCBSLA Foundation Guerilla Garden Painting, Blue Cross & Blue Shield Foundation

Arlene didn’t argue.

“I’ll be at the doctor on Monday,” she told us back then. “I didn’t want to hear that, but I needed to. It’s why I came.”

But anecdotes aside, nothing tells the tale of change better than hard numbers. And in this case, our numbers speak for themselves. The prestigious Pennington Biomedical Research Center assembled the data below. And make no mistake, we’ve had an impact.


Challenge Grant by the Numbers:

Nutrition on Wheels Truck
Nutrition on Wheels, now rolling through Central La.


Pounds of fresh produce distributed: 577,464

Physical activity/exercise classes scheduled: 3,760

Community meetings & events organized (including action policy councils formed, training classes, coalition partner gatherings, park clean-ups and wellness festivals: 1,678

Action policy councils formed: 15

Cooking & nutrition classes: 928

Community gardens planted (home, school and neighborhood access): 107

School wellness programs launched: 138

I got veggie stir-fry — how about you?

Parks, schools & other community gathering points improved: 49

Paved biking/walking/running paths added or improved: 124,608 feet

New farmers, mobile markets & healthy food distribution points created: 78

Incentive programs developed (to encourage farmers market shopping): 8

Partner organizations involved in all projects: over 350 Growing Local NOLA, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation

Funds raised to expand/sustain Challenge Grant programs: $4,869,823

Let’s pause for a moment to linger over that last number — an additional $4,869,823. Wow. That’s profoundly significant because it means much of the work we helped begin will live on, beyond our funding period. And nothing underscores the success of a project like new money to keep it going, to keep it growing. That’s our statewide impact in action.