In 2018, the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation announced its new signature cause, the BlueCross Healthy Place program. Launched in Memphis that year, the program revitalizes public spaces in urban, suburban and rural areas statewide. It helps give communities the access and amenities they need for residents to enjoy connection and healthy activity, both of which improve overall health.
We started with the BlueCross Healthy Place at David Carnes Park, a 9-acre public park in the Whitehaven area of Memphis. Since this space officially reopened in 2019, the program has expanded statewide with 23 projects open or under construction.
To mark the fifth anniversary of BlueCross Healthy Places, we spoke to program manager Keith King and project coordinator Kellie Mosgrove about the program, how they commemorated this milestone and what the future looks like.
Tell us a bit about the BlueCross Healthy Place program. What’s the goal, and where is the program today?
Keith: The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation dedicates around 75% of its annual funding to the BlueCross Healthy Place program to build and revitalize public spaces across Tennessee. We hope that by improving access and amenities in areas of need, more Tennesseans will be able to enjoy healthy activity and get to know their neighbors.
We aim to have projects in all areas of the state, including small towns and major metros. Since 2018, the BlueCross Foundation has invested over $50 million across 23 projects , and we’re on track to invest $100 million.
What’s in a BlueCross Healthy Place?
Keith: One of our program priorities is community engagement, and that means listening to the people who call these neighborhoods we serve home. We want to be sure we’re providing them with assets they’ll use and enjoy. For many of our projects, the biggest need is for play and recreation equipment, but for others, it may be community gathering spaces. Each year, we ask applicants to tell us what their neighbors want to see in a community space, and we work to fulfill those requests.
Kellie: We also work to ensure that our spaces are inclusive for all, regardless of age or ability. Our design and build partner helps make sure the spaces exceed minimum Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. So, you’ll see things like ground surfacing that mobility devices can easily travel on, accessible play equipment and paved walking tracks for senior citizens.
Can you talk about the process and criteria used to select BlueCross Healthy Place projects? What types of communities do you work with and where are projects located?
Keith: We have an annual request for proposals (RFP) process through which we accept applications for new BlueCross Healthy Place projects. We ask about the proposed project, expected impact and the proposed site, but the primary aim of the application is to learn about the community and its residents. We always want to be sure that the projects we select will be designed in a way that fulfills the needs of the people who will use them.
One of the early requirements for the BlueCross Healthy Place program was that we wanted to build projects of all sizes in communities of all sizes. Tennessee is a state with a few major population hubs and many small rural communities, and we wanted to be sure this program was something that could be implemented in any area, regardless of size or resources. So far, we’ve been successful in that goal.
Kellie: Another major consideration in selecting projects is finding areas where a BlueCross Healthy Place will have the biggest impact. This year, we were able to connect with our BlueCross data team to better understand the communities that apply and more accurately identify areas of need. We are excited to continue this partnership and look forward to learning how leveraging data can take our program to new heights.
How did you all celebrate the fifth anniversary of the BlueCross Healthy Place program?
Keith: As we began to brainstorm ways to commemorate this milestone, it became clear that it wouldn’t feel right to celebrate at one or two of our BlueCross Healthy Places — we had to include everyone. So, we set out on a summer road trip to visit each of the 19 completed BlueCross Healthy Places across the state. We hosted pop-up parties at each stop, providing music, games, giveaways, snacks and lots of fun.
What was it like visiting these spaces and seeing them being used by community members?
Keith: We were blown away by the outpouring of appreciation and kindness from the communities we visited. We heard from many grandparents who said they loved spending time with their grandkids at the “blue park.” Families told us that their BlueCross Healthy Place is the only park for miles and how much it means that it’s inclusive for people using mobility devices. Ultimately, we came away from each visit feeling encouraged about the investment our foundation has made to better the lives of Tennesseans.
Kellie: It was so heartwarming to see folks at each park and to hear their stories. Many people we spoke to told us they visit their BlueCross Healthy Place frequently. We heard about birthday parties, after-school visits, family reunions and celebrations of all kinds. Due to the pandemic, this was the first time we were able to formally celebrate with community members at a few of these parks, and that was a really good feeling.
What do you hope the next five years hold for the program?
Keith: As we look to the future, we’re excited to develop more projects across the state, while also finding ways to deepen our impact at existing projects through programming and continued engagement. And as I mentioned previously, we’re excited about the possibilities of data – using that to better understand the impact of our investment and the communities we’re serving.
How can communities interested in getting a BlueCross Healthy Place find out more and apply?
Kellie: Tennessee municipalities and non-profits can visit BlueCrossHealthyPlaces.com for more information about the program and application criteria. We accept proposals Aug. 1-31 each year, so keep your eye out for additional information coming next summer.