Laurel School District, City of Laurel Police Department and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation - Children’s Healthy Heroes’ Initiative

The Laurel School District is the recipient of two Governor's Awards this year. They are the district-level winner as well as the recipient of the Governor's Award of Distinction for the Children's Healthy Heroes' Initiative.

It all began in 2012 when Laurel Chief of Police Tyrone Stewart tasked officers to create a program to address unhealthy lifestyles of officers and the community. The following year, the Healthy Heroes’ Initiative was launched with the help of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. Healthier lifestyles are proven to decrease chances of developing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, while promoting a longer life expectancy. Staying active also increases focus and developmental functions, all of which create a healthier student physically, mentally and emotionally.

The partnership designed the Children's Healthy Heroes' Initiative for third and fourth graders to help them focus on fitness, nutrition and healthy lifestyles. The initiative involved more than 2,000 students and faculty members at Oak Park, Maddox, Nora Davis and Mason elementary schools. As part of the initiative, uniformed police officers visited schools monthly to talk to children about health-related topics and participate in fitness activities. Officers also discussed proper nutrition and making healthier food choices.

After each health and wellness session, the Laurel Police Department participated in community walks with students, teachers and employees that began and ended at the schools. Prior to the events, flyers were sent home to parents, and walks were advertised in local newspapers inviting the community to participate. Walks ranged from a half mile to a mile, depending on the school's location. More than 600 participants walked in the first event at Oak Park Elementary as onlookers lined the streets to clap and shout words of encouragement. After completing the program, police officers awarded each child a stick-on badge to wear.

Since the program’s inception last year, the Laurel Police Department has hosted 11 health and wellness seminars and community walks. In addition to improving health and wellness, the initiative helped build positive relationships between children and police officers and increased understanding of the many ways that police serve and protect communities. The Children's Healthy Heroes' Initiative also received the 2014 Mississippi Municipal League Excellence Award.