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HealthPartners chips in $50K for wellness center

Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden recently announced a $50,000 donation from HealthPartners that, among other possibilities, may be used to providing wellness center memberships for underprivileged youth. Photo by Zach Kayser, Pioneer Journal

Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden readily admits the county is one of the least healthy in the state. The new wellness center may work to fix that gap, but Wolden worries about a specific segment of the local population who won't get to take advantage of the new place to stay fit.

Wolden is concerned about children from lower-income families who may not necessarily be able to afford memberships to the new facility. In order to get a head start on the situation, Wolden and other organizers behind the wellness center have been looking for funding to help provide memberships for local kids.

On Dec. 24, Wolden got a letter from representatives at HealthPartners, the city's health insurer, who said they were giving the city a donation of $50,000 to help.

Wolden first got the idea to help out underprivileged youth through wellness center memberships from interactions with the Community Concern for Youth (CCY) program.

"A lot of kids that are involved in that diversion program ... are not involved in extracurricular activities," Wolden said. "They're going home and they're sitting on the couch and they're playing video games. They're just moving inside. I was troubled by that."

Wolden pointed out that inactivity among youth leads to a "drain on taxpayer dollars." He said it eats into the budgets of the school, city and county.

"My goal as mayor is to see that no child is turned away from membership in this wellness center," Wolden said.

In October, Wolden connected with others involved with the wellness center project, including Jeff Browne of the fundraising committee and WELCOA President David Hunnicutt, to hold a conference call. Browne said the fact Hunnicutt could connect the city and fundraising committee with higher-ups at HealthPartners right away was an important factor in obtaining the donation.

"Dave does know a lot of these key guys at HealthPartners, so that was huge to get them to buy in on what we're doing," Browne said.

Donna Zimmerman, senior vice president of government and community relations at HealthPartners, was also part of the call.

"We were very impressed by the aims and goals of the project," Zimmerman said. "The overall focus on improving the health in the Wadena area as well as engaging children and youth in health and wellness is what intrigued us."

Zimmerman said HealthPartners was also specifically interested in assisting with research at the new center, such as baseline health testing of the local population.

"We think there's an opportunity beyond the donation to work with the community on the approach to health and wellness," Zimmerman said.

Wolden said the donation could be applied toward a variety of programs at the new wellness center, in addition to providing memberships.

"This is a sky's-the-limit opportunity," Wolden said.