Project U-Turn

In Jackson, Michigan, a recipient of an Active Living by Design grant, participation in the Walk To School Day event doubled over the course of the funding period. Investing the grant money in several, small-scale projects spread the ALbD message broadly.

In Jackson, a blue-collar town of 36,000, the unemployment rate rose from 6.5 percent in 2002 to 9.5 percent in 2008. The high rates of obesity and overweight in Jackson mirror those found throughout the state of Michigan. Contrasting the bleak economic and health conditions are Jackson’s 22 parks and 635 acres of recreational space.

Recognizing the city’s need for a fresh start, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) awarded Jackson an ALbD grant in 2003. Jackson’s ALbD partnership, Project U-Turn, sought conditions that would encourage Jackson residents to make active living choices. An existing partnership, the Walkable Communities Task Force, guided the project. The Task Force recruited guest speakers, sent staff members to national conferences, and organized community events.

Key Findings:

  • The Task Force, by leveraging its ALbD grant, became a central player in fund-raising efforts for the $2 million, 10.5 mile Falling Water rails-to-trails project.
  • Safe Routes to School used $100,000 to create physical projects such as the purchase of new bike racks for four schools and new sidewalk construction.
  • As part of Project U-Turn, the Community Bike Program provided donated bikes to recent parolees.

RWJF established the ALbD national grant program in 2001. After a review of more than 900 proposals, ALbD formed partnerships with 25 community organizations. Each ALbD partnership received five years of funding in the amount of $200,000.