Each October, mayors across Idaho “step up” for a challenge to inspire healthy lifestyles in their communities by doing a simple activity every day: going for a walk.
The Mayor’s Walking Challenge is an annual event developed by High Five, an initiative of the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health. The challenge encourages mayors to take 10,000 steps a day during October. Each mayor who reaches that goal receives $1,000 to use toward community projects that promote community health.
The Mayor’s Walking Challenge attracted 74 mayors in 2018. It was the largest turnout in the 5-year history of the challenge. The mayors took a collective 29 million steps, with 62 reaching the goal to earn funds for their communities.
“Once people saw how simple and fun this challenge was, they couldn’t help but join in,” says Courtney Frost, High Five Program Officer. “But it’s not just about the mayors getting healthy — they inspire their spouses, their kids and their schools — until the entire community is walking alongside them.”
Making Big Ideas Practical and Actionable
Courtney has seen the funds used for a variety of creative and innovative projects over the years. Many of these projects don’t just end with the $1,000 grants — they result in policy changes that impact the entire community.
For example, one city partnered with a nonprofit to construct ADA-compliant physical activity equipment for children with disabilities. Another used the funds to repair tennis courts, while other mayors have used their $1,000 toward repairing city pools, constructing walking paths, developing school exercise programs and more.
Creating Healthier Role Models
As role models in their communities, mayors can shape the environment they live in by demonstrating healthy lifestyles while engaging with their community.
Courtney says one of the best ways to get to know a community is by getting out and taking a walk with the kids that live there. That’s why the challenge encourages mayors to walk with students. During the challenge, mayors receive bonus steps each time they walk with an elementary school.
“The mayors don’t just walk with the kids for five minutes and leave — they really get to know them and cheer them on,” Courtney says. “To the kids, walking with the mayor is like walking with the president. We’ve heard stories about students getting so excited they go home and ask their parents if they want to walk together.”
Mayor David Davis of Jerome shared one experience he had during a walk with students. “A young man came up to be and told me that walking was healthy. I told him he was absolutely right and asked him where he learned that from. He informed me that I walked with his sisters yesterday at Summit Elementary. That lets me know that they are going home and talking about their walking experience and the purpose of the walk.”
By working so closely with the mayors, the Foundation can learn about the challenges within each community, partner with local advocates and philanthropies, and help craft solutions with the town’s specific needs in mind.
“We’re not only check writers — we’re partners,” Courtney says. “We get to know each community closely, building relationships and establishing trust so we can create lasting change.”
That all starts with going on a walk.