RUMFORD — After a few years of hitting silver, the Hope Association has finally struck gold.

Executive Director Catherine Johnson said the association received the Gold Award from the River Valley Healthy Communities’ Work Healthy! program. The program recognizes businesses and organizations that have placed a high priority on promoting good health for their employees.

“We got the silver award a few times over the last few years, but we’ve finally hit our goal, which was to get the gold,” Johnson said.

The effort began three years earlier, Johnson said, after association employees took a survey on how to make the workplace healthier.

“When we got the results of the surveys, we went through, tried to prioritize and figure out where it would be easiest to start,” Johnson said.

Using the results, Johnson said the association was able to put together a plan for making a healthier place. Among the changes were instituting a breast-feeding policy for employees that allows “a place and opportunity to take care of their children,” Carol Emery, a member of the River Valley Healthy Communities, said.

Johnson said the association created a policy for employees that reimburses half of what they spend at 5k runs or walks for charity.

“We also signed up for the Healthy Maine Street Coalition, which gives us access to a number of resources, including local gyms,” Johnson said.

One of the biggest changes was making all of its buildings smoke free, she said.

“That was probably the biggest step we took,” she said. “It’s one of those things that takes a little while to get implemented. We started off by making it so employees couldn’t smoke within 15 feet of the building, and then we pushed it back to 20 feet. After awhile, we were able to switch to ‘no smoking.’”

The association also offers smoking cessation classes for employees.

“A lot of the ideas we get for improving our workplace comes from reaching out and being involved with the community,” Johnson said. “We got ideas from the Healthy Communities Coalition, Envision! Rumford and other local groups. We take advantage of any advice we get.”

Johnson said the association is planning to collaborate with a dietitian at the Rumford Hospital to change the menus at association facilities.

“We just kicked off that program last month,” Johnson said. “Some of our residents require less food to stay healthy, while others may require more food. Changing our menus would help keep things healthy for everyone. The dietician at the hospital is also a chef, which is a great combination.”

Emery said she was glad to see the association win the Gold Award, adding, “It’s always been our thought that a healthy employee is a happy employee.”

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