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Want to Reduce Stress? Connect With Nature

Community Health Partners With Come Alive Outside

Hike in the light of the full moon, gather pinecones for a nature mandala, share photographs of a favorite forest, snuggle with your pet, make a snowball lantern, learn to box breathe, or roast marshmallows at a campfire. Connecting with nature is empowering and healing. It’s also affordable, often free.

It’s something Rutland-based Come Alive Outside Executive Director Arwen Turner learned during her career working with nonprofits in California, Colorado, and Japan. The impact of nature’s healing power became a reality when Rutland County organizations like Community Health came together this year to address the stress and anxiety the community was experiencing after months of social distancing and isolation.

About 2,500 people took part in the 2021 Winter Wellness Passport program and over 95% of those surveyed responded that the activities had a positive impact on both their physical and mental well being. The idea behind Come Alive Outside’s programs is to motivate people to be active outdoors for health and wellness. This winter Come Alive Outside’s Winter Wellness program aimed to increase physical activity while decreasing stress and anxiety, and results showed that it worked.

Winter Wellness Passport at Community Health

Community Health not only sponsored the Passport program, but the CEO and members of the staff took part. “Being a newcomer to Vermont, it was an opportunity to be able to get out and experience Vermont and it was the impetus for me to lose 80 pounds,” said Community Health CEO Don Reuther. Reuther took on the weekly Friday challenge, reporting back to his staff with an email and photos every week for three months. “The roasting the marshmallow outside activity was converted to roasting a beet because I’m on a keto diet. There was the cold shower challenge (that really went too far) but it was a chance for me to connect with my staff on a personal level and for me to be able to express to them who I am, not as a CEO but as a person.” Reuther regularly received dozens of responses to his Friday email and Facebook posts.

“One reason the passport program was so successful was the communication and comradery that was on social media around the program,” said Turner. “Don sharing his journey was refreshing and relatable. A lot of us were struggling to get outdoors and stay active this winter and it was nice to see the CEO of Community Health share his own struggles and celebrations around health and wellness.”

The original idea for the Winter Wellness Passport focused on the substance abuse recovery community. Sponsored by United Way, Vermont Community Foundation, Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, Hydroflask Parks For All, Community Health, and Rutland Regional Medical Center (RRMC), the passports were distributed to recovery patients at Community Health, Turning Point, Rutland Free Clinic, and Dismas House.

“As community partners found out about the Winter Wellness Passport, we broadened the scope to bring this mental health focused program to worksites and individuals in Rutland County,” Turner said. Local worksites that participated in the program in addition to Community Health were City of Rutland, HFCU, Killington Resorts, Woodstock Inn & Resorts, RRMC, Vermont Country Store, You First, A.N. Deringer, and Brattleboro Food Co-op. Other sponsors and partners were Rutland Wellness Cooperative, Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Nature Safe, JP Horizon, Casella, and Carpenter Costin.

Summer Programs

For this summer, Come Alive Outside has two programs underway – 100 Miles, 100 Days challenge and the School-Age Outdoor Passport. Over 3,000 people are already participating in the 100 Miles, 100 Days program for adults and families which runs through September 25. The Mile-A-Day Programs are made possible by Community Health, RRMC, HFCU, VNA & Hospice, Rutland Mental Health, AllTrails, NatureSafe, JP Horizons, and Casella.

“The School-Age Passport is primarily funded by Snap-Ed Funds from Vermont Department of Health.  For the winter 2021 and summer 2021 passports, we were able to expand the reach of this program to include all 4,400 elementary school children in Rutland thanks to the support from the Hills and Hollows Foundation, local Rotary Clubs, Sotheby’s, LL Bean, Dick’s Sporting Goods, AllTrails, Casella, HFCU, RRMC, VNA & Hospice, Blue Cross Blue Shield of VT and the Jesser Family.  We were recently awarded a grant from United Way to continue bringing the school-age passports to every elementary school in Rutland County through 2022,” Turner said.

Come Alive Outside is a national organization headquartered in Rutland that supports programs in 46 different states and Canada. This summer, the School-Age Passport program is taking place in Rutland and Windham counties in Vermont, in Worcester County, Massachusetts, Fayette County, West Virginia as well as in Hastings and Prince Edward counties in Ontario, Canada. Over 11,000 children and their families across North America will have the chance to connect with nature and be active outdoors.

The passport and walking programs have been especially successful in Rutland County. “Rutland is a county where we have a lot of cousins, grandparents, and siblings that live in the same county but maybe are not the same town. Through the passport and Mile-A-Day programs people are able to connect with each other, even when they weren’t able to connect physically. They are working toward the same goals,” Turner said.

What’s in the Future?

“Come Alive Outside’s reach and impact is growing because of the support from the community and its dedicated staff, board, and Vermont steering committee,” Turner said. They expect to repeat the Winter Wellness Passport again in 2022 as well as explore ways to engage people who need more support in taking the first steps to getting out of doors.

The organization is currently fundraising to build two mobile applications to take the Passport and Mile-A-Day programs to the next level by enriching the user experience, allowing for stronger data collection and making both programs more financially and environmentally sustainable. This year, they are on track to reach over 19,000 Vermonters with their programs. “We are trying to reduce passive screen time,“ Turner said. “But we are also looking at how we use can technology to enhance outdoor experiences that promote health and wellness.”

“I have an amazing staff that has various interests,” said Reuther. “We all share an appreciation for wellness and for Vermont and our partnership with Come Alive Outside.”

Learn more about Come Alive Outside on their website

For more information about Community Health check our website at

Community Health is Vermont’s largest Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), a network of primary care, pediatric, behavioral health, dental, and pharmacy services with offices in Rutland, Brandon, Castleton, West Pawlet, and Shoreham. Community Dental offices are located in Rutland and Shoreham, Community Health Pediatrics is in Rutland, and Behavioral Health services are available at all of our locations. Community Health Express Care Centers, open 7 days a week, are located at the Rutland and Castleton Community Health Centers.

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