We have had our hesitations about supporting Lebanon's push to become a Blue Zone demonstration community.
And, after the latest meeting on Feb. 1 with representatives from Blue Zones Project Oregon, we recommend that the Lebanon Blue Zones leadership team sever ties with Blue Zones Project Oregon.
Representatives from Blue Zones Project Oregon said that Lebanon must come up with $200,000 (and soon) to help fund the first year of the project or else Lebanon will not get the Blue Zone designation. Blue Zones Project Oregon officials also requested at least a $300,000 minimum for the following two years. The original amount requested was $200,000 to $400,000 per year.
Blue Zones demonstration communities seek to mimic the healthy living habits of areas where a larger percentage of people live to be 100. The idea came after researcher Dan Buettner found five such communities throughout the world, and he discovered several aspects of what makes them healthier.
The organizers originally said they would announce the second Blue Zones demonstration community in late December. That was pushed back and organizers now say they could name three new demonstration communities.
Organizers on the leadership team, and members of the community expressed frustration with the changing timeline, and the increase in minimum funding. We find those legitimate concerns and serious enough to justify backing out of the program.
If Lebanon does move forward, the funds would be used to purchase a funded program that would hire four to five local people, start a public relations and marketing campaign, and rent office space, all in an effort to promote healthy living activities.
It took two hours and many, many questions from Linn County Commissioner Will Tucker to get that simple answer about what the money would be used for. Also, the organizers refused to even offer an estimate about how much that program is worth.
The Dalles Chronicle published on Jan. 13 that the program The Dalles would receive there would be worth about $1 million; the city of The Dalles is one of the other finalists to become a demonstration community.
Aaron Patnode, executive director of Blue Zones Project Oregon, showed visible frustration when he was asked what specifically the program would bring to the community. This question was asked by an individual who had not attended any prior Blue Zones meetings.
It's true that there have been several meetings explaining what a Blue Zones community is, but when you're asking for a large chunk of change, you need to be ready to explain it (yes, over and over again) enthusiastically.
Advocates of the program said they wanted to raise money, but only if they could do it without taking money from any other local nonprofits. This is an impossible goal. An argument was made that if a person donates money, it sparks a contagious feeling and that person will give more. We wish that were true, but unfortunately, money just doesn't work like that.
Lebanon has already made great strides in improving community health from the great work done by trails built by Build Lebanon Trails throughout town. And the addition of the medical school to Lebanon has resulted in many outreach efforts in the goal to improve community health.
Also, as far as we can tell no single business in Lebanon has committed to funding a large portion of this project; several government entities such as the city and school board have voiced support without financial backing. This could be due to no organization having that much money to give. It could also be (and this is our suspicion) that none of the organizations with deep pockets have truly been sold on the program either.
One thing this project has proven (which is not surprising) is that Lebanon cares deeply about its community and health, and a group of dedicated individuals, as part of the Blue Zones leadership team, has been working for a year to get Lebanon named a Blue Zone demonstration community.
Our recommendation is that the leadership team not disband, but instead rebrand and dedicate their work to finding existing ways to improve Lebanon's health.