René Stansbury is the co-chairwoman of the Acadiana Healthy Communities Coalition, a network of about 30 different health and community agencies that work together on initiatives and events to improve the health of area residents. Stansbury has worked in the health education field for about 14 years and is currently regional manager for the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living. Membership in the coalition is open to anyone, and more information can be found at healthy louisiana.org.

What does the coalition do?

The coalition is made up of community partners from around Acadiana, and our mission is to communicate community awareness to improve health. We want to make the healthy choice the easy choice. One of the projects we’re working on right now is locating all of the available walking and exercise opportunities that are available for free or at a low cost. We’re trying to remove barriers in the community and create opportunities for healthy eating, exercise and living a healthier lifestyle.

Does the coalition target particular health issues?

We focus on obesity prevention, tobacco control and prevention, heart health and cancer prevention. With tobacco prevention and control, we assist businesses, agencies and municipalities with implementation of tobacco-free ordinances or policies and promote cessation services that are free. We work with companies to set up cessation programs. We do a lot of education awareness about the impact of secondhand and thirdhand smoke.

What’s thirdhand smoke?

We all know secondhand smoke is what someone exhales or what comes off the burning end of cigarettes. Thirdhand smoke is if I smoke in this room, it can stay in here for a month on surfaces, clothes, rugs. Once I go and ruffle my clothes or drop a book on the floor or a table, it emits those chemicals into the air. It can trigger asthma attacks and other chronic diseases.

What other initiatives is the coalition working on?

We’re putting together an action plan for the region. All of the members give input on what you can do as a community and pool our resources together to make an impact. One thing we know is that everyone is short for funds. How can we work smarter together and make that impact change and have a healthier community? What we ultimately want to do is increase the health ranking of Louisiana. We’re at the bottom. How can we improve that one community at a time? We’re working to mobilize communities for those changes.

Marsha Sills covers education for The Acadiana Advocate. Follow her on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.