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Expanding our vision for meaningful community spaces

Originally published in The Tennessean, July 2023

On a recent Saturday morning, dozens of people were enjoying themselves at the BlueCross Healthy Place at the Northwest Family YMCA. Kids were climbing a rock wall built into the hillside and running through the splash pad fountains. Friends were walking and talking on the track that meanders around the play equipment and sports field.

A few members of our team showed up to join the fun, hosting a pop-up party with snacks and small prizes.

We’ve been hosting these events around the state to celebrate the fifth anniversary of our BlueCross Healthy Place program. At each one, we meet community members who are proud to call them their local parks.

One resident shared, “I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Bordeaux area, but there aren’t a lot of nice parks for kids to go and hang out. And I think this one is perfect because it caters to the little kids, the big kids, and even adults.” That’s music to our ears.

I recently had the chance to attend a groundbreaking for a BlueCross Healthy Place in Bean Station, a small townnorthwest of Knoxville. After the ceremony, a grandmother approached us with tears in her eyes just to say, “thank you.” This new space is going to mean so much to the children who mean so much to her.

A $100 million wellbeing investment

Stories like these are why the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation made public spaces the focus of our charitable giving.

Our focus is improving the lives of all Tennesseans – not just BlueCross members. And we know wellbeing includes both physical and mental health, which are woven in ways we’re still learning.

In May, the United States Surgeon General released a new advisory about our country’s “epidemic of loneliness.” It’s a challenge that got worse during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, public outdoor spaces became lifelines for many of us. They were often the safest places to get exercise — and socialize.

BlueCross Healthy Places

Public spaces remain as important as ever, and we remain committed to supporting them.  Our foundation was set up and funded more than 15 years ago to support the needs of Tennessee communities. Since we started the BlueCross Healthy Place program in 2018, we have committed $52 million to the cause. We’ve finished 19 projects and begun work on four more.

Our foundation is on track to invest $100 million in BlueCross Healthy Places in urban, suburban and rural communities. Most include all-abilities play equipment, along with walking tracks, pavilions and more.

Our biggest project yet will also be our most unique.

We’re reimagining Founders Park in Memphis, adjacent to the National Civil Rights Museum. It’s hallowed ground, and our design will make it an even more welcoming space for people to gather and reflect on all they’ve seen at the museum. It’ll be a space where we can come together and imagine a better future for everyone.

Now accepting proposals

We accept project proposals every year in August. Like always, we’re asking what kind of spaces and features would enhance your community’s wellbeing.  You may need playgrounds and fitness zones or a splash pad, and we’ll keep building those. But we’re always expanding our vision.

Maybe your community needs a skate park, a trail with gathering spots along the path, or an outdoor performance space. If it’s intended to bring people together, it may have the potential to become a BlueCross Healthy Place.

If you represent a government or nonprofit property owner, you can submit a proposal at If you’re not, we encourage you to share ideas with your local leaders.

Let’s build something great together. 

About John Hawbaker, Managing Director, Corporate Communications & Community Relations

A photo of the authorJohn leads a team responsible for communications and community relations strategies that reflect the mission-driven culture of BlueCross. He has called the Chattanooga area home since 2003 and began serving on the BlueCross corporate communications team in 2010.

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