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What Happens When Not Everyone Has Boots?



Most people are familiar with the proverb, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”

The saying is intended to explain the value of education. But as Leader Laurie Trieger explains, the saying only goes so far for those who live in disadvantaged communities.

“If all our waterways are polluted and we have rules that limit the length of a fishing pole and we only have one bait shop in the city… nobody can apply that information that they’ve been given,” she says.

Setting up a system in which everyone can learn to fish (or rather, eat healthy and be physically active) has been Trieger’s mission as the executive director of the Lane Coalition for Healthy Active Youth (LCHAY). At the coalition, Trieger has worked alongside community partners to create sustainable and healthy changes in neighborhoods in the Eugene, Ore., area.

Trieger has led LCHAY since 2007, and in a few weeks will take a new position at the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation (NEDCO), where she will work on urban renewal and affordable housing. Trieger tells the Inside Track that she’ll bring with her many lessons from her time at LCHAY. “I’ll be doing a lot of the same work in terms of environment change to support healthy communities, but from a different angle,” she says.

At LCHAY, Trieger worked to create policy and environmental changes to help shape healthy decision making. The goal is to take the focus away from individual decision making and put it on efforts that can level the playing field for every community.

There’s a prevailing idea that people need to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and focus on being healthy, Trieger says. But in communities that lack healthy food or safe places to exercise, that is much more difficult.

“Not all boots have straps,” she says. “And not everybody has boots.”

LCHAY provides some of those boots. For example, the organization has sought to improve healthy food access in underserved communities through its Healthy Corner Stores program, which helps local shop owners offer customers healthier food options. Trieger describes the communities LCHAY serves as “food swamps” because they contain “lots and lots of food, but it’s toxic.” 

On the education side, LCHAY’s “What the Health?” film and forum series features community film screenings designed to get people thinking about the food they eat and where it comes from. Past movies screened include Food, Inc., and What’s on Your Plate.

The films “help people learn the language of the role of policy and environment in chronic disease, and give some examples of how that needs to be addressed,” Trieger says.

LCHAY also worked with the Eugene Recreation Services Division to implement a healthy food and beverage policy for the products sold or given away on site. That means food sold in vending machines must meet nutritional standards, as does the sack lunch given to kids who visit recreation sites for various outdoor activities.

“We’re not saying that we’re banning soda from the property. We’re saying the city and taxpayer dollars will not be used to offer sugar sweetened beverages,” Trieger says.

As Trieger prepares to move on from LCHAY, she says the thing she’s most proud of is helping to create a sustainable organization that can adjust to changing political climates and address key issues when necessary. She notes that not all the work she’s done has been glamorous or gotten a lot of attention, but doing things such as building a strong board of directors is vital to the organization’s lasting success.

Another lesson she’s learned: Never underestimate the power of the opponent. “Even if you think it’s enormous, it’s even bigger than that,” she says.

As such, Trieger says it’s important to keep perspective, especially when it seems as if positive, healthy change will never happen.

“Work really hard to find that balance and remind yourself everyday it’s really long-term work, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t change your community in six months,” she advises.

But at the same time, don’t let yourself off the hook, she says. Trieger urges people to be “strategic which initiatives to take on when, and who to involve in the conversation.”

It’s a lesson she’ll take to her new role, Trieger says. Some of her new efforts will likely require working with her LCHAY colleagues, as she expects to focus on community food system development.

“All of the work that I’ve done has always come back to, it’s really social justice work,” Trieger says.