When Steve Naiman founded the Growing Healthy Children Walk & Run (GHC), he had a mission: Bring the community together for a day of fun by promoting an active lifestyle and good nutrition.
The event is now in its 11th year and organizers expect up to a thousand participants at the 2017 event on Saturday, April 15, in Chico at Bidwell Park. It’s easy to see why it is so popular. In addition to its signature non-competitive 1-mile and 5K races, GHC showcases locally available foods and family-friendly activities. “It’s more than a run,” says Steve enthusiastically. “We have something for everyone – martial arts demonstrations, Zumba, music, food samples and local celebrities, along with health and education information. It’s a great way to be active, enjoy good food, and just have a good time together. And it’s all at no cost. Everyone is welcome.”
Steve’s desire to build a healthy, connected community seems like a natural progression. He developed an interest in nutrition as a teen. Later, the “Green Revolution” of the ‘70s caught his attention as he considered the looming problems of feeding the world’s growing population. His studies brought him from the East Coast to Northern California, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the Nutrition and Dietetics program at Chico State University. In his current position at Ampla Health, he often assists “underserved” members of the community, including immigrants and and people experiencing poverty or homelessness. “Often my clients don’t have good access to healthy food,” he says. “And limited resources may prevent them from engaging in healthy habits like regular exercise.”
Deanna Reed is a community outreach coordinator at Enloe Medical Center, and has worked on a variety of projects with Steve, including GHC and the annual Dia del Campesino festival, which honors our region’s farmworkers. She says Steve has developed innumerable community connections over the years. “He has such a good heart,” Deanna says, “and his commitment to improve the lives of our underserved residents resonates with people. They know the work he does is so important.”
We asked Steve a few questions:
“It’s really a combination of the many wonderful people and the beauty of our natural environment. As a whole, our community is kind and caring. It’s easy to find people who are willing to help out with a project. The GHC is a good example. We simply couldn’t pull it off without the dedication and hard work of many volunteers, agencies and businesses in the community. I also love the unique landscape of Northern California – the hillsides and trees, but also the open spaces. Sometimes on my runs through the countryside I’ll pass a horse farm, and the horses start galloping along the fence line with me. That’s quite a thrill!”
What has motivated you to be such an active member of the community?
“I’m the child of Holocaust survivors. When my parents arrived in New York City in 1950 with just the clothes they were wearing, numerous social service programs were available to assist them with finding clothes, food vouchers, housing and employment. Their lives were improved immeasurably by these programs and the generosity of others in their community. Their experiences have inspired me to give back to my own community in similar ways.”
How has exercise and good nutrition had an impact on you, and why has health become a focal point in your community efforts?
“I just turned 60, yet I feel almost as energetic as I did when I was 20. I think being active and paying attention to what I eat is partially responsible for my physical well-being, but also my emotional and spiritual health. Of course, I’d like others to feel those benefits too. I’m always trying to promote the great local food options we have here and helping people find ways to be active.”
What have you learned as a community organizer? Do you have a few words of wisdom?
“Always be grateful for peoples’ willingness to pitch in and help, and express your appreciation often. I can’t say that enough. When a community works together, there’s no end to what we can do. But everyone needs to feel appreciated for their contribution.”
Suzie Lawry-Hall is a supervisor with the University of California CalFresh Nutrition Program and has coordinated the GHC event with Steve for several years. She says his tenacious efforts have strengthened the community by creating non-traditional alliances. “He genuinely cares about equality and ensuring that every voice is heard,” says Suzie. “Steve makes everyone feel important.”