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LiveWell Lawrence to celebrate eighth anniversary with community breakfast

LiveWell Lawrence is marking its eighth anniversary this year with a community breakfast Friday at the Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive. As is the tradition with the annual event, slated for 7:30 to 8:45 a.m., community members are invited to attend free of charge.

The purpose behind Friday’s breakfast, says LiveWell co-founder Marilyn Hull, is to recognize the many accomplishments of the coalition, which often works “behind the scenes” in assisting schools, businesses and city government toward the development of community health initiatives.

“It’s not so much that people know LiveWell is involved,” says Hull, whose day job is with the Douglas County Community Foundation as its program and communications officer. “If people recognize that a change is happening, then we’ve succeeded.”

Even if you’re not familiar with LiveWell, you’ve likely heard of — and perhaps benefitted from — the several projects it has worked on within recent years. Notable examples include the passage of a Complete Streets Policy in Lawrence, the adoption of school gardens and marathon clubs, as well as this fall’s introduction of a new bicycle fitness program in Lawrence schools, and a push to offer healthier options and cooking instruction for Just Food clientele.

The overarching mission of the coalition, founded in 2008 and now coordinated by the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, is to improve the lives of Douglas County residents by encouraging them to eat healthier, exercise and abstain from tobacco use.

“You know, it started as a group of about 15 people sitting around the table with lots of goals and hopes and dreams,” Hull recalls of the coalition’s beginnings. “And now, eight years later, there are 150 people actively involved, working in virtually every sector of community life and doing a whole myriad of activities that improve access to healthy foods and make it easier for people to be physically active.”

Schools and youth, of course, remain a huge focus for LiveWell, which Hull says has “exploded” over the last eight years in terms of membership and scope. A “big part” of LiveWell’s mission looking to the future is the continuing movement to bump the legal tobacco-purchasing age from 18 to 21 in Douglas County as aligned with the national Tobacco 21 movement.

Also on the horizon: the implementation of Alliance for a Healthier Generation (the national organization works to combat childhood obesity) framework at all area schools. For now, that primarily involves the Lawrence public school district, with which LiveWell Lawrence has worked closely for years. But Hull says she’d like to see efforts expanded to all schools in Douglas County, public and private.

Hull hoped LiveWell would last when she helped to found the coalition in 2008. She knew that it had to, because unhealthy habits are learned over time, and therefore take considerable time to reverse.

“So, we’re engaged in a slow and continuous process of community change,” Hull says of the progress made in the last eight years. “And I’m very happy with where we are now, but I also look around and I see so much more to be done.”

LiveWell, of course, isn’t alone in its efforts. On Friday, the coalition will present some $90,000 in grant money to local organizations working toward creating a healthier community.

Hull is keeping mum on the beneficiaries for now, but says the majority of funds will be distributed to schools and other programs that work with children.

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