When Ashley Ege, Senior Director of Development for Greater Virginia, became a member of the Danville Virginia Health Collaborative she never expected the group would send her down to the “Big Easy,” yet that’s exactly where she found herself recently.
“Eighteen months ago I took on the co-chair position of the Healthy Spaces Action team, which is a team created to create healthy spaces in the community, including workplaces, schools, after-care facilities, faith-based communities and more,” said Ege. “Every two years the group goes on a site visit to a community that we feel has a similar structure to what we are trying to achieve as we grow and, surprisingly, that trip took us to New Orleans.”
We asked Ashley about the trip in a series of questions. Her answers are quite eye-opening when it comes to how communities can come together to create healthier, safer places to live, work and play.
What inspired you to take the time to be so involved on community health?
Ashley: I’m in Development, so my primary job is fundraising; however, I felt like we were really missing the community impact in the smaller markets that do not have a community impact director. I want to make an impact in the community. I want our name to be listed when big changes are launched within the community and I want these small communities to see that the American Heart Association, while a national organization, is present at the local level.
Briefly – what is this team trip?
Ashley: The team trip is a site-visit that’s meant to inspire our group to think outside the box and see projects that are working in other communities that could possibly work for our own.
You had mentioned something that stood out about a bike organization. Tell us about that!
Ashley: YES! One of my favorite parts of the trip is when we had an opportunity to hear members of “Get Up N Ride” speak. This is a group of community members that made biking a social event at night. The goal was to put people of color on a bicycle and to also help merge people of all ethnicities. People remembered how fun it was to ride a bike as a kid and this triggered them to continue riding. They have 200-300 riders every week, and each week they take a different route. The most impactful part of the story, aside from how much this organization has grown, would be the personal stories they can tell. One week a guest will show up and rent a bike to ride; the following week they have purchased their own bike. Later, they bring a friend to join them and some will even decorate their bikes with lights. It creates a spirit of community and fun while incorporating a healthy activity into the mix.
How does what this organization is looking to achieve relate to the work of the American Heart Association?
Ashley: “Get Up N Ride” is meeting people where they are, which is also what we are doing through many of the programs the Association implements. The Danville Health Collaborative hits on every component in which our organization has a focus. We are looking to make places safe, we have a focus on healthy eating, as well as active living and access to healthcare – these are the 4 action teams of the Danville Health Collaborative. The Danville Health Collaborative also offers personal development, has worked to add new parks to the community, implemented the complete street projects, partnered with the local university to take exercise classes into low-income neighborhoods, and so much more.
What are some takeaways that this group left you with?
Ashley: I think the most important takeaway for me is that anyone can make a difference so don’t wait for change – be the change. Also, we need to talk with our communities and not make assumptions of what a neighborhood needs – let them tell us what they need. Finally, “free” is not always the best route. People need to feel value and have some skin in the game to be the most successful.
Thank you, Ashley, for helping to be the change in Danville, Virginia! If you have questions about her trip, contact Ashley at Ashley.Ege@heart.org.
Kevin is the Communications Director for West Virginia and Western Virginia. When not in the office, Kevin is an active performer with the State 35 Comedy Troupe and is the founding member of the Ghostbusters – WV Division fundraising team. He has been with the organization since 2005.