In the fall of 2011, Jason Crandall, an assistant professor at Owensboro’s Kentucky Wesleyan College, told students in his exercise trainers’ class to start a program for seniors at a local retirement home. The students made flyers, but no one showed up.
The exercising program was competing with – and losing to – a bingo game that was going on at the same time.
Crandall’s solution was to combine bingo and exercise into a program called Bingocize. He applied for a grant through the Owensboro Health Gives Community Benefit Grant program so he could hold weekly Bingocize workouts at two area senior centers.
“I was a neophyte” about the grants process, he says. “I never wrote or applied for a grant before.” But he says Debbie Zuerner Johnson, the health system’s community outreach manager, guided him through the process. Bingocize in 2012 received a $3,500 grant.
The program proved to be an inexpensive, effective and fun way to improve physical activity and the quality of life for seniors. Another Owensboro Health grant followed in 2013 to expand the program to other seniors’ facilities. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging later that year certified Bingocize as an evidence-based practice, heightening interest about the program across the country.
Today, Bingocize has spread to eight states as an innovative way of keeping seniors active. Crandall, now a professor at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, has created a new version of Bingocize with a health education component, and plans to market it nationwide.
Watching Bingocize grow “has been phenomenal to watch,” says Owensboro Health’s Johnson. “And you trace that back to a $3,500 grant. It isn’t about the money. It’s about taking a concept and allowing organizations in the community to go with it and do what they do best.”
Every year, Owensboro Health’s community benefit grants plant the seeds so health improvement initiatives, like Bingocize, can grow and thrive.
Crandall says Bingocize offers a strong example of how Owensboro Health “nurtures so many different types of programs that in so many different ways are helping to build healthier communities. They saw it as a win-win for everybody. A win for seniors, a win for my students and a win for the community.”
The health system has awarded more than $3.5 million over the past five years to local organizations looking to improve health outcomes in the 14-county region the health system serves in western Kentucky and Indiana. Owensboro Health last year awarded $703,000 to 38 regional organizations for programs that address major community concerns – like obesity, substance abuse and access to care – identified in the health system’s community health needs assessments.
The grants are a “tool to drive positive change, build stronger relationships and empower the community,” says Johnson, who oversees the program. She says grant recipients “become partners and extensions of what our mission is, which is to heal the sick and improve the health of the communities we serve.”
Every February, the health system kicks off the program by hosting sessions intended to help organizations learn more about the grants-application process. “We sit down with potential applicants and look at the community health needs assessment, local health indicators and disparities, promising practices and really look at mission alignment,” Johnson says. “We open the door to all potential applicants for these conversations.”
This year, applications are due May 20, and the health system is expected to announce the grant recipients by mid-August.
Amanda Owens applied for a community benefit grant in 2012 to open Puzzle Pieces, a center for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The health system awarded Owens a $50,000 grant to pay for her salary as the center’s head and the salary of a program director.
“Everything I ever wanted was in that grant,” says Owens, whose inspiration for Puzzle Pieces was her brother who suffers from a chromosome disability. “I cried when Debbie told me I got the grant.”
Owens quit her job as a local middle school teacher and opened Puzzle Pieces that September for 32 clients. Today, 42 staff members provide support services for 110 clients from ages 8 to 60. “We are a social environment that is promoting healthy relationships and social skills” for clients with special needs, says Owens, adding that Puzzle Pieces’ motto is “know us for our ability and not for our disability.”
She says she could not have started the program without the health system’s support. “They laid the foundation for our work and made us sustainable just by believing in us,” she says. “They are the heart of our community.”
The largest grant recipient in 2015 was the Elizabeth Munday Activity Center for seniors, which in August was awarded more than $68,000. The grant supports the center’s “PEARLS” project, which helps seniors deal with depression. The project started in December and provides counseling to seniors at home.
“We’re so grateful,” says Dana Peveler, the center’s executive director. “This is opening doors not just for Daviess County, but the state of Kentucky doesn’t have a program like that and we’ll be able to set something up that others can replicate.”
She says Owensboro Health’s community benefit grants generate goodwill throughout the region. “Whenever I promote [PEARLS], I make it a point to say these dollars are coming from the people who are providing you with your health care,” Peveler says. “They feel so strongly about meeting your needs that they invest in us to help make our community even better, stronger and healthier.”
Watch this video of Owensboro Health’s Johnson talk about Bingocize and the health system’s community benefit grants.