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Pulling Together to Build a Park in Milan

By Bonnie Christiansen, Regional Coordinator — SNAP-Ed

In the tiny town of Milan, MN, University of Minnesota Extension staff, residents, and a number of partners are working together to improve the community park.

Despite being home to only 369 residents, Milan has been the focus of much attention for several years, for a special reason. That same reason is why Extension Health and Nutrition staff chose Milan as one of three sites for its pilot projects supporting healthy living.

So what’s the special reason for all the attention? Milan’s unique make up.

Why Milan?

Located in Minnesota’s prairie country about 130 miles west of Minneapolis, Milan (say “MY-lihn”) was founded by a group of Norwegian immigrants in 1879. Milan’s story was similar to many other Minnesota towns with Scandinavian roots until 2000.

That’s when a new group of immigrants began calling Milan home: Micronesians from a group of small islands in the western Pacific Ocean. The first Micronesian family moved to Milan because of a friendship between a Micronesian resident and a Milan resident who had spent time on one of the islands in the Peace Corps. Now, Micronesians make up over half of Milan’s population, many of them young families in special need of a park.

How It Happens

The Health and Nutrition Pilot Project in Milan is bringing together all residents to work on improving their community park. SNAP-Ed Educator Peter Ekadu and Extension Educator Serdar Mamedov in Health and Nutrition convened a group of 12 community members who are a mix of Micronesians, Scandinavians, clergy, business owners, city officials, and private citizens. This group, called the Milan Action Team, chose the park project from all the ideas generated from three community meetings. Along with two community guides, Peter and Serdar lead the Milan Action Team in creating their dream park. When complete, the park will include volleyball and basketball courts, a playground, a shelter, and restrooms.
  • Many partners have provided resources along the way. Here are three examples: Family Development’s Applied Research and Evaluation Team completed a Rural Active Living Assessment. The results of the assessment confirmed that Milan would benefit from improved park and playground facilities. The evaluation team shared the results of the assessment with Milan leaders to help inform their decision-making.
  • Peter connected the mayor of Milan with staff at the Public Health Law Center at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law to draft a resolution stating that the City of Milan will take ownership of the park. The mayor of Milan city wanted to put into writing that they support the park project and will be responsible for Liability, securing funding and resources, sustainability and facilities maintenance.
  • Professor Joe Favour, head of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Minnesota College of Design, has designed the park and provided a plan for developing it when funds become available.
While much work has been done, there is still much to do. The Milan Action Team meets monthly to move the project forward. This project will benefit Milan for years to come as residents work together to create space for the community to gather and enjoy physical activity.

Background: The Pilot Projects

In the summer of 2016, teams of Health and Nutrition staff began work on what is hoped to be a long-term commitment to supporting healthy lifestyles in three Minnesota communities. Referred to as “the Pilot Projects,” these initiatives are focused on the goals of creating an understanding of healthy eating and active living; improving food skills such as shopping and preparation; working toward policies, systems, environments, and social norms that support healthy choices; and improving access to healthy foods — all on a community-wide scale.

The specific programs and initiatives to reach these goals are generated in a collaborative manner with members of each community. Community members participate with Health and Nutrition staff in a strategic co-creation process. This process honors community wisdom, empowers members to be agents for change, and allows for adaptation to meet specific community needs.

The pilot projects were first conceptualized in the process of creating the Health and Nutrition Portfolio Plan (UMN login required) in 2014. The idea gained traction in 2016 when they were included in the FY2016 SNAP-Ed plan submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. For more information, read Health and Nutrition Pilot Projects Ready for Takeoff in Three Minnesota Communities.

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