By BULLETIN STAFF REPORTS
The Harvest Foundation announced Thursday it will provide $1.56 million over three years toward an initiative aimed at improving the Henry County-Martinsville economy by improving the area's quality of life as well as the health of the community and its residents.
It is the largest investment that a foundation has made toward such an initiative, according to Executive Director Richard Killingsworth.
The initiative is based on a nationwide "Complete Streets" movement that involves planning, designing and building infrastructure that people - especially pedestrians and bicyclists â€” need.
Complete Streets also helps communities with comprehensive planning and policy development aligned with fostering choices that help people be active, a Harvest Foundation release says.
Killingsworth is a former national director of Active Living by Design, which establishes innovative approaches to increase physical activity through such things as community design and public policy, its Web site shows.
Among organizations that will take part in the initiative, the release shows, are:
- The National Complete Streets Coalition, which aims to foster a planning process to create safe streets for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists alike.
- The Safe Routes to School National Partnership, which aims to help make streets safe for children walking to school.
- The League of American Bicyclists, which aims to create a way to teach bicycling skills to children and adults.
- BikeWalk Virginia, which aims to help the community value biking and walking and make it part of everyday life.
- The University of North Carolina, which will work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop a method of evaluating the local program.
The groups will receive funding through the Harvest grant and have a presence locally, Killingsworth said.
"We're excited to be helping Martinsville-Henry County blaze a new path to prosperity through this initiative," said Allen Turnbull, executive director of BikeWalk Virginia.
People want communities where walking and bicycling are safe and fun, and such places are cleaner and more attractive not only to residents, but also to tourists and businesses, he added.
The Harvest Foundation was set up in 2002 to invest proceeds from the sale of Memorial Health Systems in Martinsville in local education, welfare and health efforts.
Residents' health could improve under the new initiative if there are more opportunities for walking and biking, a foundation release indicates.
The initiative also should help economic development, Killingsworth said. Development involves more than just establishing industrial parks; it also involves ensuring that local residents who work for businesses have a good quality of life, he said.
The Harvest Foundation's initiative will focus not only on helping people function better in getting around town, but also on improving other "critical areas" of community life, such as streets, neighborhoods and the uptown business district, he said.
"We have an unprecedented opportunity to ensure that our investment helps revitalize our public spaces and creates a uniquely attractive, vibrant and healthy place that speaks to our vision of Martinsville-Henry County becoming a community of choice," Killingsworth said.
"This initiative will bring tremendous national resources to our doorstep in pursuit of a far-reaching vision that will help our community thrive," added Henry County Administrator Benny Summerlin.
Martinsville Mayor Kimble Reynolds Jr. said he thinks the project will "affect the lives of thousands of people" locally and lure people "who see something unique" in the city.
Participants in the initiative will seek public involvement in the process, according to Killingsworth. However, he said no public sessions are planned on the initiative.
Ultimately it will be up to community leaders to implement any suggestions eventually made, based upon their funding priorities, he said.