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More About Hearts N' Parks--North Carolina

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Report Summary

Full Report [PDF document, 152 K, need Acrobat Reader to review]
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Report Summary

The Hearts N' Parks Y2K pilot project was implemented by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in collaboration with the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), NC State University and Southern Connecticut State University. It took place in 12 communities representing urban, suburban, and rural areas throughout the state of North Carolina during the summer of 1999. The communities involved were Albemarle, Fletcher, Garner, Greenville, Hickory, Madison-Mayodan, Mecklenburg County, Raleigh, Roanoke Rapids, Smithfield, Winston-Salem, and Wilson. Youth and adult programs were conducted. Every site, except Smithfield, elected to do youth programs, whereas only eight sites elected to do adult programs. Participants in the adult programs were all senior citizens. Fletcher, Greenville, Raleigh, and Wilson did not do adult programs. The size of the programs ranged from 9 participants in Smithfield to more than 1,000 in Mecklenburg County. Most programs had between 20 and 40 participants.

Three types of efforts were undertaken to evaluate the program. NRPA collected data from participants at the 12 sites, at the beginning of the program (pretest) and after completion of the program (posttest). After completion of the program, telephone interviews were conducted with site personnel. Finally, at a conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, in November, a roundtable discussion was held with site personnel.

Summary of Participant Data

Before the start of the project at the 12 sites, pre- and posttest surveys were distributed at training sessions. Two types of tests were available, one for youth programs and one for adult programs. Each of the sites independently decided which type of program it would like to conduct. Instructions on how to administer the tests were given verbally and in written form to site personnel by NRPA. One copy of each type of test packet was given to the sites, depending on which of the programs they were planning to conduct. Sites were responsible for making copies of the tests.

In general, the participant data showed improvements at posttest. Overall, youth scores significantly improved for knowledge of healthy eating and intention to eat healthy in the future. Overall, adult scores significantly improved for healthy eating habits. In addition, although some scores did not show statistically significant improvement, there was some improvement in most other variables. In fact, improvement was seen in all posttests that were recommended for administration. Only the tests that the sites independently elected to use as posttests failed to show improvement. However, this may be due to the short time elapsed between pre- and posttest administration.

Based on the results of the participant data analysis, several recommendations are made to improve administration and results in the future.

  • Age-appropriateness was an issue for the youth tests. The youth programs had participants ranging in age from 4 to 17, and the youth tests were clearly designed for younger children. The adult tests were more appropriate for mature adults or senior citizens. An additional set of materials meant for older children or adolescents may be useful.
  • Size of the program is very important and should be stressed in training. Small sites (fewer than 30 participants), although they may do a good job, will probably not see the improvements in their test scores. Very large sites, on the other hand, probably do not have the time or resources to adequately monitor test administration. Mecklenburg, the largest site, had the most difficult time keeping track of its data and submitted the least reliable data of any site. For sites this large, it may be useful to restrict test administration to selected participants or one or two programs.
  • Based on the data analysis and examination of the data quality, programs with approximately 40 participants are probably best. If larger programs are attempted, resources (money, staff) should be specifically committed to the program.

Summary of Telephone Interviews

As part of the overall project goal of developing a Resource Guide to Hearts N' Parks Y2K, telephone interviews were conducted with recreation directors, coordinators, supervisors, and program assistants from each community. The specific intent of these interviews was to assess the value of the materials, training, and support provided by the NHLBI and NRPA before program implementation, as well as to learn about what other types of support were received by the sites. Information was also gathered about what support or information the sites needed but did not receive. This input was used to provide additional information for the development and design of the roundtable discussion conducted in November 1999, as well as to improve future program implementation.

One person was interviewed from each of the following sites: Albermarle, Fletcher, Garner, Hickory, Greenville, Raleigh, Roanoke Rapids, Smithfield, and Winston-Salem. Two people were interviewed from Wilson and three people were interviewed from Madison-Mayodan. At the largest site, Mecklenburg County, 4 people were interviewed, resulting in a total of 18 interviews. Interviews were conducted using a semi-structured interview that asked what parts of the planning process provided by the NHLBI and NRPA were helpful or not helpful in implementing the program. Interviewees were also asked about what types of support were provided to the program outside of training and orientation by the NHLBI or NRPA and what types of support they needed that they did not receive from any source. In addition, the respondents were asked whether they would repeat the program next year or recommend the program to colleagues based on their experiences this year with the Hearts N' Parks program. The length of the interviews varied, but the usual duration was approximately 10 minutes.

Responses for each question in the interview were compiled and synthesized. The following is a summary of the key findings from the interviews. The ideas presented in this section are generally based on responses from several interviewees. Care is taken in presenting the results to give an accurate depiction of the responses. However, the findings are not quantitative in nature and should be interpreted accordingly.

Overall, the training sessions, materials, and support were very well received and well liked by the respondents. In addition, there was nothing that respondents received that was not helpful. Respondents indicated that they would like to implement the program again next year and would highly recommend it to colleagues. Some respondents were continuing with the program in their fall and after-school programs.

Issues of concern to the respondents were obtaining financial support and donations, obtaining and developing media support, and recruiting partners to be involved in and support the program. Several respondents said they had some financial support but would have like additional support, such as healthy food donations. Only a few respondents mentioned having any type of media attention. One person suggested that speakers related to the Hearts N' Parks program from the national or State level might be helpful in drawing media attention. Many of the respondents had health department and hospital partners but only a few had businesses as partners.

In addition, planning time was an issue for some respondents. They felt that they could have implemented the program more effectively if planning had started much earlier and that the training was rushed. In fact, several respondents indicated that they are now starting to plan for next summer, suggesting that to be optimally effective Hearts N' Parks might be better viewed as an ongoing, year round activity.

Summary of Roundtable Discussion

In November 1999, a roundtable discussion was conducted with staff members from several sites that participated in the Hearts N' Parks Y2K program. The discussion took place in conjunction with the annual North Carolina Recreation and Park Society conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. Participation in the discussion was voluntary and was open to any representatives of the sites. One representative from each of the following sites participated in the discussion: Albemarle, Garner, Raleigh, Roanoke-Rapids, Smithfield, and Wilson. Two or more people participated from Fletcher, Madison-Mayodan, Winston-Salem, and Mecklenburg. The participants filled various roles, ranging from program director to camp assistant. In addition, two representatives from a local hospital participated in the discussion.

The following is a summary of the key findings from the discussion. The ideas presented in this report are generally based on responses from several discussion participants. Care is taken in presenting the results to give an accurate depiction of the responses. However, the findings are not quantitative in nature and should be interpreted accordingly.

Based on their experiences, participants in the discussion confirmed previous research that they would like to participate in the program again next year. Many said Hearts N' Parks is a good program, is valuable and positive, and provides good information. All participants said they would recommend the Hearts N' Parks program to colleagues at other parks or agencies based on their experiences this year. Respondents felt that they were doing something beneficial and important for the community at large and that Hearts N' Parks was a good and effective program with excellent materials.

Overall, the program was very successful but made for a busy time. There were very few insurmountable problems, and most participants expressed interest in looking forward to the future and finding ways to maintain the program. Overall, participants valued the support and training provided by the NHLBI and NRPA. Throughout the discussion, several ideas for ways that NHLBI and NRPA could help recreation and park programs in the future emerged.

  • All agreed that the "status" of being part of a national program with prestigious lead agencies was helpful in accomplishing the desired activities. Keeping the national status would be important for a second year of activities as well as for implementing programs in more States.
  • Data analysis support is invaluable. Even preliminary evaluation data provided desirable information and has been helpful in garnering the support of others and proving the value of the programs.
  • More materials and other resources would be invaluable. Across the board, participants believed that being provided with more templates would be a strategic support because templates would allow them to generate more activities with minimal effort on the planning stage and move more quickly to implementation.
  • Marketing advice and support would lend both credibility and needed expertise. The top-down approach, i.e., through an NHLBI news release, was an effective means that helped during the first summer. Additional information on how to involve businesses and the community as partners would be useful, as would more involvement from the NHLBI or NRPA in enlisting media attention for community programs. These are areas where site personnel lack experience, and special emphasis during training would be beneficial.


Without question, the pilot of Heart N' Parks Y2K was a success. It met its goals of improving heart-healthy knowledge and behavior among participants during the course of the program, implementing a process for conducting and evaluating the program, and providing professional development for site personnel. Because Hearts N' Parks was a pilot program and a field study, several areas were identified that could be improved for the future and were noted throughout the report.

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