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BCBSIL, City and Community Partners Announce PlayStreets, Safe Neighborhood Events for Sports, Fitness and Dancing

October 02, 2012

Streets closed off for kids to promote healthy lifestyle and strategy to combat obesity

CHICAGO IL – Today, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) along with several community partners kicked off an innovative new program designed to increase access for children to have safe places to play while promoting healthy activities with the aim of reducing childhood obesity. PlayStreets, as the name implies, closes off city streets in communities in order to provide a safe, supervised space with organized outdoor activities for sports, fitness and dancing.

A ribbon-cutting event with City officials took place in the Pilsen neighborhood, where Cullerton Street was blocked off from 3:30-6:30pm for activities for children and families to get active. Community members from around the neighborhood joined to make the announcement. Over fifty PlayStreets events in total are scheduled in six Chicago neighborhoods from now through mid-November. (Pilsen, Little Village Brighton Park, Woodlawn, Chicago Lawn, and South Chicago).

"It's programs like PlayStreets that provide invaluable after-school activities for our children across the city, giving them safe places where they continue to learn and be engaged outside of the classroom, right in their own neighborhoods," said Mayor Emanuel. "We've increased access to pre-k programs, are continuing to implement our City Colleges College to Careers programs, and after-school programs like these are an important piece in our goal to support our children from cradle to career."

PlayStreets is endorsed by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her "Let's Move!" physical activity and fitness campaign. The blocked-off street events may include aerobic dance and music, tie-ins to Olympic competition with obstacle courses and other activities such as sports, games, and personal trainers teaching fun and easy exercises.

At the event, Lawrence Soler, President and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America, applauded Chicago's efforts to promote healthy behaviors. "Today in America, one in five kids doesn't have access to a playground – that's millions of children who can't pick up a ball, run outside or have fun in a safe environment. Chicago and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois deserve to be commended for working to ensure that every kid has a place to play and be active. Your efforts - and those of all the partners involved - are critical to our ability to end the epidemic of inactivity facing our nation's youth," said Soler.

"This is a great advancement towards implementing our Healthy Chicago public health agenda and making our city the healthiest in the nation. Today also highlights the importance of working with community based partners to make our city a healthier place," said Dr. Bechara Choucair, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

PlayStreets is a public-private partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL), its sole sponsor. BCBSIL is the exclusive funder for the PlayStreets program, a $317,000 grant that also includes continued financial support for the two organization's joint Care Van community immunization program.

BCBSIL's President, Karen Atwood explained, "This program allows us to reach so many Chicago communities and connect them to healthy behaviors in a fun and local way. It also gives kids and parents information about wellness, nutrition and fitness. We loved the idea and were in from the start." said Atwood.

Non-Profit community organizations are responsible for implementing the program and for coordinating day-to-day logistics and operations of PlayStreets events: Active Transportation Alliance, Gads Hill Center, Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago (LISC Chicago) and World Sport Chicago in partnership with community-based organizations in a number of Chicago neighborhoods, including, Pilsen, Little Village Brighton Park, Woodlawn, Chicago Lawn, and South Chicago.

Other community partners include: Beyond the Ball, Network of Woodlawn Public Safety Alliance, Southwest Organizing Project, Claretian Associates and Resurrection Project.