Cedar Rapids Public Library to launch program aimed at improving health, nutrition in the community

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The Cedar Rapids Public Library, 450 5th Avenue SE — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The Cedar Rapids Public Library (CRPL) wants to make getting and staying healthy a little bit easier. And in a few months, patrons will have access to nutrition classes, wellness equipment and other resources aimed at honing a healthy lifestyle.

The CRPL is one of two libraries at which the Iowa Department of Health is a launching a new program called “Harnessing the Power of Iowa’s Libraries.” (The other is the Perry Public Library in Dallas County.) The year-long project is being funded by a $50,000 grant the state health department received from the Telligen Community Initiative, a nonprofit that funds health-related projects in Iowa, Illinois, Oklahoma and Colorado.

“The purpose of the project as a whole is to look at community health needs and initiatives and how can libraries and the existing infrastructure in public libraries help support community health improvement plans,” CRPL director Dara Schmidt said.

Linn County Public Health, which is working with the library for this program, has done extensive strategic planning to come up with their community health improvement plan, Schmidt said. The plan addresses the “three most acute and major needs” of the community: mental health, obesity and safety.

The library also has its own strategic plan.

“The project helps us look at both of those [plans],” Schmidt said. “How do they overlap and how can we as a library enhance and support the great work of the public health department? How do we help our community be the best place it can be?”

There are four initiatives the CRPL is planning as part of this project, and the library is already at work on the first one — hiring a social/community health worker to increase access to human services. This was something the library had already been planning with Linn County Public Health, which is why they were able to start it right away, Schmidt said.

The CRPL will also offer early literacy information aimed at supporting maternal health and start lending wellness equipment — like yoga mats and resistance bands — in the spring (around April or May). Come summer, the library will hold healthy cooking and nutrition classes.

“I think everybody wants to be healthy, but it’s just not necessarily as easy as that,” Schmidt said. “So being able to look at some of those things through these healthy cooking and nutrition classes, I think will give the community an approachable and fun way to be able to support their own health.”

“We hope that we can incorporate health with enjoyment for long term sustainability and lifestyle changes for our community.”

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