Big check will get effort going to make city a ‘Vitality Center’

Published 9:20 am Wednesday, October 14, 2009

With a $20,000 jump-start to carry the initiatives of the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project forward, local vitality project leaders on Tuesday unveiled plans for a “Vitality Center” in Albert Lea’s historic downtown.

The center, which will be in the first floor of the historic downtown Jacobson Apartments building, will give local residents and tourists a place to go to learn about increasing vitality on an individual and community level.

Albert Lea City Manager Victoria Simonsen asked the community to step up and donate labor, time and materials to make the Vitality Center possible.

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“I do believe that as we sustain this lifestyle, the people of America will want to learn from us,” Simonsen said.

The announcement came at the end of a celebration of the Vitality Project, which highlighted successes of the community and of residents who are starting to lead healthier, happier lives.

Simonsen said the vitality team, made up of the Vitality Project’s leadership and sustainability teams, will apply for grants to help pay for a coordinator for the Vitality Center and for marketing materials.

Freeborn National Bank restoration architect Pat Waddick has sketched a potential interior for the building, which will be equipped with areas to take the Vitality Compass, to buy vitality merchandise and for groups to meet, to name a few.

Local leaders want to make the Vitality Center a reality over the winter months, she noted.

After Simonsen announced the plans for the Vitality Center, AARP and United Health Foundation officials announced each entity would give $10,000 toward the efforts.

Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner also presented a plaque designating Albert Lea as the first “Blue Zone-Certified City.”

Buettner said Albert Lea exceeded its expectations for the project, which was the first of its kind.

The city manager said the nation will continue to watch Albert Lea as it brands itself the national vitality center.

How else will the project carry forward?

Simonsen said the vitality team is pursuing a joint powers agreement between the city, Freeborn County, Albert Lea School District, Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau, Albert Lea Medical Center and the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce.

The vitality team will also continue meeting every other Tuesday at the Albert Lea Medical Center.

Besides these things, many of the initiatives that started through the Vitality Project will continue, she said.

In 2010, some of the initiatives include a healthy schools team, walking school buses, a faith initiative, cooking classes, moais, gardens and purpose workshops.

Because of the increasing interest in gardening, a new community garden will be dug out in the spring in the southeast part of Albert Lea near Halverson Elementary School, Simonsen said. This garden will be in addition to the Brookside Park and Spark Avenue community gardens.

These are just a few of the ideas to carry the project forward, she noted, and vitality leaders are open for more.

Vitality team members will also seek to engage local residents who have not yet been involved with the project.