Michelle Fuentes: I moved to Tuolumne County eight and a half years ago. I love doing day-to-day hospital operations, but I realized that I needed to be more outward-facing. I needed to connect more with community leaders. Instead of just being Adventist Health Sonora, I wanted this hospital to be our community hospital, our hospital. I wanted them to see us as community partners, people who were going to be involved with your kid's soccer game, people who would help at the fair, people who would put a float together for the Mother Lode parade. Then Adventist Health comes with the idea that they really want to promote well-being in communities. And we raised our hand in Sonora and said, “We want to be one of the first to go on Blue Zones because we believe we have the community relationships, the community connections, and we believe we're poised and ready to be able to launch a project of this magnitude.”
The thing I'm most excited about with Blue Zones is it will lay the foundation for the healthy choice to be the easy choice. I think the future is really bright for Tuolumne County. The next big things that are going to happen is we're going to start working with policy makers to change policies so that there's sustainability in the future. We're going to be working with our local grocery stores and restaurants to make healthy options the easier option for people to buy. Tuolumne County Transportation Council is working with the state of California to take old railroad tracks and turn them into paths, biking paths, and walking paths that will connect different little towns in our community to each other.
So we just did our official community launch a couple of months ago. The turnout was phenomenal. Over 1,000 people came and interacted with our over 30 booths of businesses that were there either representing farmers' markets or they were doing cooking classes, or they were part of a school project. We had just a really fun outing and people learned more about the Blue Zones and how it was going to impact our community from this point going forward.
How do you create something that when you're gone continues to live on? It's not all about food, nutrition, and exercise, which I think gets lost in the idea of wellness and well-being. It's really about, do you have the relationships and the social network that you need to wake up every day with purpose? Do you have a belief in a higher power and a higher calling of things that are happening in the world? Do you have financial security so that when you go to bed at night, you can sleep well. And so I'm excited about the work that they're going to have, the Blue Zones team in this community to really help people create a foundation for a more stable, predictable, well future. Never has there been a time in our history where people need connection more than they do now. People need relationships. People need purpose. People need resiliency. And the Blue Zones Project at its very least gives people hope, hope that by making small changes, their lives can be better.