Rexburg is Using High Five Grants to Transform its Community
An industrial building stood alone, abandoned and empty in the midst of sprawling fields large enough for a soccer field, basketball courts, volleyball courts and more. Yet the building and fields hadn’t been used for years.
“We had this facility, all this unused space full of opportunity,” says Daniel Torres, the city’s assistant economic developer. “But we had no idea what to do with it.”
A group of residents purchased part of the building with the hopes of creating a community recreation center, but few steps had been taken to transform the area.
That soon would change.
High Five, an initiative powered by the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health, awarded Rexburg a Community Transformation Grant that provided the city with $250,000 worth of funding and technical assistance to improve the health of its youth.
Daniel and the town knew exactly where grant funds could best be used to benefit the community.
Through the grant process, the city and their partners came up with the idea of an interactive children’s discovery center — Kidsburg! The play and learning center now fills the formerly vacant building with colorful exhibits of grocery stores, farms, doctors’ offices and more.
A GROWING NEED
Rexburg’s population is one of the youngest in America, with a median age of only 23 years old. Home to Brigham Young University-Idaho, where 51% of its students are married by graduation, Rexburg is filled with younger couples just starting their families.
With a city-wide poverty rate of 43%, many of those younger families aren’t able to afford additional programs or child care to keep their children active and learning.
Before creating Kidsburg, the city conducted a community health assessment. Daniel and his team found that many families weren’t properly educated on nutrition, and most teachers and parents believed there should be more physical activity at school.
“Despite being so close to the outdoors and surrounded by recreational opportunities, kids just weren’t as active as they could be,” Daniel says. “They didn’t have the opportunity at home or at school.”
Focus groups were formed to help get to the heart of the issue. Daniel and his team found the city lacked safe spaces for children to stay active during the harsh, cold winter months.
It had been a growing concern for many years. Daniel says he experienced the issue first-hand as a parent raising young children in the community.
“If you wanted to take your three-year-old somewhere they could be active during the winter, you were basically stuck going to the indoor playgrounds at fast food restaurants,” Daniel says. “In order to have that kind of interaction and activity, you had to eat unhealthy food.”
Forming Healthy Partnerships
Daniel and his team’s solution was a safe, educational and community-based indoor play center.
From there, Daniel went to three different BYU-Idaho classes to start forming the idea. A public relations class helped draft the name and marketing plans, while two graphic design classes designed the look and feel of the space.
With the students’ plans in hand, Daniel went to local contractors and businesses to turn the community’s idea into a reality. With the help of healthy partnerships, the city was able to build frames for the exhibits, refinish the floors, paint the walls and fill the exhibits with supplies.
All along the way, Daniel and the city worked heavily with the High Five Committee, school board members, leaders from surrounding communities and the citizens of Rexburg. Without these community partnerships, Daniel says Kidsburg would not have become a reality.
“To make a project like this work, it has to be owned and advocated for by the community,” Daniel says. “We did it all because of them and what they asked for.”
Kidsburg admission is $4 per child, and parents are admitted for free. There are weekly activities scheduled that have been a big hit. Today, Daniel says you can routinely find 30-40 children and parents at Kidsburg, learning and playing together. The exhibits promote healthy eating, active lifestyles, science, math and more.
“We’ve learned that if people are given the opportunity to be healthy and active, they’ll choose to do it,” Daniel says.
Catalytic Philanthropy in Action
When the city opened Kidsburg on Halloween in 2018 with a carnival, 5,000 local families walked through the center and purchased nearly $4,000 in prepaid passes for their children.
“When it was finished, we could all take a step back and say, ‘Look at what we achieved together,’” Daniel says.
Prior to working with High Five, Daniel says discussions about community health were practically nonexistent. Now, the entire city is engaging in meaningful conversations to learn what improving community health means for Rexburg.
“The Community Transformation Grant wasn’t some sort of hand-out, a one-and-done project, or a prescribed solution,” Daniel says. “We completed a project tailored to what was best for our town. It was a way to move the needle in our community’s health and lay the groundwork for lasting change.”