She may only be 12 years old, but this Kay County 4-H’er is making a big difference in her community of Newkirk, Oklahoma.
Hannah Cross has developed a plan for her town, which includes a fitness path, story walk and a bike share program, all of which combines her belief in physical fitness with her love of the historic downtown area of Newkirk.
She collaborated with the City of Newkirk and the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Healthy Living Program of Kay County to start implementing her plan. Through the partnership, a bike path and the designated safe routes to school path were incorporated and the plan became known as the Newkirk Pathway Project.
She initially developed her plan a couple of years ago and took it to city officials. The City of Newkirk, with the help of Cross and Jenny Creech, TSET Healthy Living Program coordinator, secured a $553,000 grant from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation that will pay for replacing the worn and broken sidewalks that comprise the various paths and bring everything up to code for the Americans with Disabilities Act. She also is working to find more funding sources to complete the rest of the plan.
“When I moved here three years ago, my family lived a block away from Main Street. I really liked all the old buildings, but I noticed there weren’t a lot of people out walking and enjoying Main Street,” Cross said. “I thought that was really sad, so I tried to come up with a way that would help people enjoy the history of our town and promote fitness and healthy living.”
The fitness path will consist of different exercise equipment along the path where people can do squat dips, pushups, ride an elliptical and more. Cross said she had seen a similar path in another town in which all of the exercise equipment was in one place. With her plan, the equipment is dispersed along the path, which she hopes will encourage people to walk the whole path.
Cross is particularly excited about the bike share program. Spoke’n Things, a bike shop in Arkansas City, Kansas, generously donated three bicycles for the program, all of which are painted bright, whimsical colors.
“For the bike share program, you just go to the library and check one out, just like you would a book,” she said. “Then you just ride the bike along the path and when you’re done, you check it back in.”
On the story walk, children can stroll along the path to various stations where pages from a book will be posted. The first story that will be available is Head to Toe. Cross said the story will be changed out two times a year.
“This will be a lot of fun for parents and children to do together,” she said. “Not only is it good exercise, but it also can help encourage young kids to read.”
Jane Thomas, Newkirk city manager, said when Cross came to her office to share the initial idea of the Pathway Project, she loved the project from the start.
“We just clicked with our ideas. Her vision is well above her age and she sees the whole picture,” Thomas said. “She wants to help everyone, not just kids. This project is great for everyone from ages 8 to 80, and it’s wonderful for locals and visitors alike. This is a wonderful way to showcase the history in our community.”
Cross also took her plan to Karen Dye, retired director of Newkirk Main Street program, to get more ideas for possible funding sources to complete the Fitness Path.
“Hannah came into my office with a set of plans, a vision and goals. Downtown Newkirk is on the National Historic Registry, and this plan will help make our community better,” Dye said. “If our youth don’t step up like she’s doing, our small communities will die. Hannah is finding a way to make our town better and this project will be an important part of our community for years to come.”
One aspect of this project Cross likes is the fact her 4-H Club, the Newkirk Go Getters, are behind her efforts, too. Several club members gathered recently to help paint sharrows along the bike path. These are markings on the road that help motorist recognize they are sharing the roadway with bicyclists. The stencils used by the club members to paint the sharrows on the road were provided by the TSET Healthy Living Program of Kay County, and the City of Newkirk provided the paint.
Creech first learned about Cross’ idea when she met with Thomas about the funding opportunity from ODOT.
“I loved Hannah’s idea for the fitness path from the first moment Jane told me about it,” Creech said. “Her idea aligned with the TSET Healthy Living Program goal of increasing opportunities for physical activities. A project like this is setting an example of active living for small communities.”
Theresa Horinek has been Cross’ 4-H leader for three years and got to know her through the robotics club.
“Hanna has really grown into a leader over the last three years. Our 4-H club is involved in community service and Hannah has really gotten our club involved in this project. She really is a true role model,” Horinek said.
Cross recently was honored as the recipient of the inaugural Catalyst for Change Award for her ambitious plan. This award, developed by Payne County 4-H’er Audrey Ochsner, is designed to recognize 4-H’ers who are making a difference.
“Sometimes it seems the 4-H’ers who get recognized the most are the ones who are on the leadership council or are ambassadors,” Ochsner said. “I wanted to create an award that shows you don’t have to be a big leader to be recognized. There are lots of 4-H members doing great things that deserve recognition.”
Cross received a $500 award for winning the Catalyst for Change award. Half of the award she can keep for herself and the other $250 will go toward a project of her choice. The award is sponsored by former 4-H’er Josh Grundmann.
“I really love my community of Newkirk and I’m amazed at how the community has supported this project,” Cross said. “I’m glad I have support from 4-H because it teaches a lot of leadership and public speaking. I’ve learned if you’re involved in 4-H you can do anything. There’s always room to help citizens of a community and we’re trying to make a footprint in our town.”