July is Social Wellness Month and ParkRx Arizona is celebrating by helping participants in the Phoenix Metro area embrace their local neighborhoods, improve their green spaces, share their expertise, learn new skills, and grow into effective community leaders. The program focuses on building relationships between neighborhood communities, organizational partners, and healthcare providers and their patients, all with the aim to improve health and activate public parks. Social wellness is a key component to living a healthy lifestyle. Getting out and about is easier when you have strong social connections to look forward to. The stronger the community ties, the more likely to draw people out of their homes and into social spaces such as parks.
“I’d say if you like the outdoors, if you like exercise, if you are interested in improving your health and wellness, if you are interested in helping your community and joining hands with your community to improve your community, I would say look into ParkRx,” said Phoenix Physician Dr. Ben Evans. “It is a great program.”
ParkRx Arizona began as a grant project in 2019, with the AZ Dept. of Forestry and Fire Management as a key stakeholder. With funding from Vitalyst Health Foundation, the initial scope was limited to improving shade and walkability in 3 parks, planting 130 trees, conducting weekly walks and recruiting healthcare providers in the surrounding area to prescribe park time. As the pandemic hit and healthcare partners became inundated with Covid-19 concerns, the project shifted to embrace a more significant role for the community coordinators. By identifying and recruiting existing neighborhood leaders, ParkRx was able to expand. With the additional support of an ever-growing number of partner organizations, the program has grown significantly by planting almost 300 trees, holding programming and events in 9 parks, and is now regularly serving 5 Phoenix communities.
“ParkRx has been a great contribution to our small community in the south of Phoenix,” said Evelyn Alvarado. “It has brought people from other places to enjoy the park and now they feel safer walking outdoors with their family. We have an amazing park.”
The Community Coordinators helped ParkRx and healthcare providers reach out to residents to establish what types of activities would bring them to the park, which activities they found most interesting, and what, if any, barriers existed that might deter park usage. The passion these leaders show for their community has brought neighborhoods together, strengthened ties and allowed ParkRx Arizona to blossom into the family of communities it is today.
“The dedication and passion in the work of the ParkRx Community Coordinators made what should have been a challenging year a successful one,” said Yasmin Zavarce, from Maricopa County Department of Public Health, commenting on the surprising 2020 growth. “The program faced many changes but their work always kept it moving forward.”
Community members participate in weekly walks, free yoga and pilates classes, gardening groups, and intercommunity sports events. Each neighborhood brings its own unique identity and interests and the coordinators set up events that suit their community’s needs.
By building stronger partnerships and unique social networks, ParkRx Arizona has improved social wellness for the communities they serve. As a result, their work was recognized in the spring of 2021 when ParkRx Arizona became a recipient of the National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Award for Health. Community Coordinators are looking forward to continuing their work activating parks, connecting their neighbors, and improving community health for a long time to come.
ParkRx Arizona. Growing Arizona stronger, one relationship at a time. For more information, visit Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management and ParkRx Arizona.
Photo Credits: Yasmin Zavarce, Evelyn Alvarado, and Liza Golden.