WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 /PRNewswire/ — YMCA of the USA, the national resource office for the nation's 2,686 YMCAs, today announced that 18 new communities will join Pioneering Healthier Communities — its signature initiative that focuses on collaborative engagement with community leaders, how environments influence health and well-being and the role public policy plays in sustaining change.

One of YMCA's many Healthier Communities initiatives, Pioneering Healthier Communities is part of Activate America(R) — the organization's response to the nation's health crisis. Through Activate America, YMCAs are changing the way they work inside their facilities to make them more supportive for people who need help adopting and maintaining a healthier lifestyle, and they are moving outside of their walls to act as a catalyst to improve community health.

"PHC, and similar efforts, are improving America's health, one community at a time," said Neil Nicoll, YMCA of the USA President and CEO. "When the YMCA started this work five years ago, we knew that we had the potential to make a real impact in changing the way leaders think about how their communities support physical activity and healthy eating. The changes taking place in the communities that have engaged in this effort are creating environments that will help sustain healthy behaviors."

The YMCA's Healthier Communities Initiatives — PHC, ACHIEVE, and the Steps program — are having an impact in 132 sites across the country. Communities involved in these initiatives have had success in influencing environmental and policy changes that affect community walkability and pedestrian safety, access to fresh fruits and vegetables, worksite wellness and physical education requirements in schools.

2008 Pioneering Healthier Communities

YMCAs in 18 communities across the country are convening local leaders this year to respond to public health challenges: Birmingham, AL; Hot Springs, AR; Oakland, CA; Savannah, GA; Belleville, IL; Indianapolis (Lawrence), IN; Topeka, KS; Worcester, MA; Red Wing, MN; Neosho, MO; Winston-Salem, NC; Livingston, NJ; Cincinnati, OH; Marietta, OH; Nashville, TN; Port Arthur, TX; Burlington, VT; and West Bend, WI.

What's Next for the 2008 Pioneering Healthier Communities

Following the model of the 2004-07 communities, YMCAs in these new 18 communities will compose a team of local leaders, including elected officials, state and local directors of public health organizations, business leaders from various industries and leaders of local schools, parks and recreation departments, foundations and hospitals who will plan and implement strategies for healthy change. These teams will convene at the Pioneering Healthier Communities national conference December 10-12 in Washington, D.C. This fifth-annual conference will focus on educating these community leaders about strategies and models for bringing about community solutions that have been replicated nationwide. At the conference, attendees will learn about evidence-based approaches to affecting change from nationally-known experts. In the past, experts have included Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Sally Squires, formerly of The Washington Post and author of "The Lean Plate Club;" Mark Fenton, contributing editor of Health magazine and a PBS TV series host; Dr. Ken Thorpe, Executive Director of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease; Tyler Norris, co-founder of Community Initiatives; Roberto Salazar, Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service and Dr. Jeffrey Levi, Executive Director of Trust for America's Health.

Pioneering Healthier Communities is funded through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Since 2004, this critical initiative has also received generous support from Kellogg's Corporate Citizenship Fund, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, PepsiCo Foundation, Aquafina, JCPenney Afterschool Fund and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

For more information about Pioneering Healthier Communities go to http://www.ymca.net/activateamerica.

About Activate America(R): Pioneering Healthier Communities

Pioneering Healthier Communities (PHC) is a part of Activate America, the YMCA's response to the nation's growing health crisis. PHC was developed with expert advice and assistance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Their input is helping to build an infrastructure for replicating model programs and approaches to develop healthy communities nationwide. In past years, Y-USA was joined in this effort by National Presenting Sponsors — PepsiCo Foundation, Aquafina, Kellogg's Corporate Citizenship Fund, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, JCPenney Afterschool Fund, and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), and by Expert Advisors — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Action for Healthy Kids, Active Living by Design, Alliance for a Healthier Generation, American Hospital Association, American Planning Association, Association for Community Health Improvement, Directors of Health Promotion and Education, the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, National Park Service, National Recreation and Park Association, President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Society for Public Health Education, Stanford University Prevention Research Center, Trust for America's Health and University of North Carolina Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Activate America builds upon the YMCA's proud heritage of pioneering timely programs that respond to societal needs.

The YMCA: A Long-Standing Commitment to Health of Spirit, Mind and Body

YMCA of the USA is the national resource office for the nation's 2,686 YMCAs, which serve 21 million people each year, including nearly 10 million children under the age of 18. YMCAs respond to critical social needs by drawing on their collective strength as one of America's largest not-for-profit community service organizations. Through a variety of programs and services focused on the holistic development of children and youth, family strengthening, and health and well-being for all, YMCAs unite men, women and children of all ages, faiths, backgrounds, abilities and income levels. From urban areas to small towns, YMCAs have proudly served America's communities for nearly 160 years by building healthy spirit, mind and body for all. Visit http://www.ymca.net to find your local YMCA.

      CONTACT:  Kelly Kennai                YMCA of the USA                202-835-9043                kelly.kennai@ymca.net