BELLEVILLE — The efforts of the Signal Hill Neighborhood Association to promote healthy living has earned them the distinction of being St. Clair County's first "Get Up & Go!" community.
To earn the designation, residents in the area have to be working together to help each other be more active, exercise and eat healthy. The countywide effort is in response to St. Clair County's ranking as one of the least healthiest counties in the state.
Donna Dougherty, a member of the neighborhood group, said she and other volunteers thought a community garden would encourage families to garden together and eat more fruits and vegetables.
So the association bought a house that was in disrepair on 95th Street, on the same block as Signal Hill Park and Signal Hill Elementary School, and turned the property into a garden with 20 garden beds, Dougherty said.
The garden also has a raised bed for an older woman who said she wanted to garden but has bad knees and a bad back, Dougherty said.
The plots are so popular the group already has a waiting list for next year, Dougherty said.
In addition to the garden, the association often works on Bluff Park behind the school. Sometimes they do educational hikes to hunt for mushrooms or clear trails by removing invasive honeysuckle along Curve Creek in the park.
Now there are signs between the garden and the school indicating that the area is a "Get Up & Go!" neighborhood.
"We want other communities to emulate what's happening here," said Mark Peters, the director of community health at the St. Clair County Health Department.
Rita Boyd, president of Get Up & Go!, a Belleville nonprofit, said Signal Hill has the benefit of having an established neighborhood association that was already working on such projects.
But Get Up & Go!, along with the city of Belleville, St. Clair County and other community groups, can work with interested residents in other neighborhoods to assess and evaluate projects for guidance and funding.
For more information, visit www.getupgo.info.
The county is now ranked 88th out of 102 counties, according to the most recent report from the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In 2011, the county was second to last.
The ranking is determined by factors such as access to healthcare, poverty and health habits.
Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.