Nationally Recognized ODL Project Moves into Ninth Year with 2020 Grant Announcements

The Oklahoma Department of Libraries (ODL) has awarded 23 Health Literacy Grants totaling more than $161,000 to libraries and adult literacy programs for the 2020-2021 grant cycle. Grantees will use the funds to provide a variety of health and wellness programs for the state’s residents. Programs during the 2019-2020 cycle attracted a record 32,000 Oklahomans, many of them participating in virtual programming because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Each year, grant applicants propose programs to meet their community’s identified health needs. This year’s programs will include information sessions on physical and mental health, virtual and outside exercise classes, cooking and nutrition classes, community vegetable gardens, Story Walks in public parks, and even a bicycle safety and bicycle lending program.

The creativity and diversity of Oklahoma’s grantees brought national attention to the state’s health literacy efforts, according to Leslie Gelders, Literacy Coordinator at ODL. The agency’s Health Literacy Project has been featured in the book Healthy Living in the Library: Programs for All Ages by Noah Lenstra, and Gelders has served on panels at national literacy and health conferences. ODL continues to participate in a three-year national study on health and wellness programs in small and rural libraries.

Started nine years ago with five pilot sites, ODL’s project was developed to address the state’s poor health ranking. Oklahoma currently ranks 46th in the health of its residents according to the 2019 America’s Health Rankings from the United Health Foundation.

Originally, the project’s emphasis was on helping adult learners understand basic health and medical information, Gelders said, but has grown far beyond that thanks to the vision and innovation of local libraries and literacy programs.

“When these local programs started attracting so many people outside of the original target group, we realized there was a great demand for health information and healthy activities by the population as a whole,” Gelders said. “We quickly adapted the grant opportunity to help libraries and literacy organizations develop programs to address that demand.”

Over the course of the project—nearly a decade—56 organizations have brought health literacy programming to their communities.

Gelders thought she had stopped being impressed by the popularity of the programs, but the pandemic brought a big surprise. “Our goal for the 2019–2020 cycle was to attract the same number of participants as in previous years. That was 20,000. When the pandemic began, we expected the numbers to go down. Instead, our grantees reported that they had attracted more than 32,000 people to their programs.”

Much of that unexpected success was due to virtual programs, Gelders said. “The grantees had to adapt quickly, and they were able to move programs online. People could attend a tai chi class or a cooking demonstration safely from their homes, and they could watch on their own time because many of the programs were recorded. These virtual programs attracted many people who may not have been able to participate in the past because of their schedules.”

For this new grant year, applicants approached their programs with the pandemic in mind, incorporating the possibility of virtual programs. Libraries in Ada, Bartlesville and Piedmont are planning outside exercise classes. Six public libraries are planning to build Story Walks, which combine reading with outdoor fun.

Gelders said the health literacy project shows no signs of slowing down. “Some of our grantees apply every year. Some apply off and on. But every year we have new libraries or literacy organizations who apply for funding for the first time.” New grantees this year are public libraries in Maysville and Ringling.

A Facebook Group for grantees past and present lets libraries and literacy programs share ideas that can be adopted locally. “ODL is here to help and provide ideas, but some of the best ideas and inspiration come from this online community,” Gelders said.

Gelders says she has seen libraries and literacy programs embrace a comprehensive approach to their grant requests. “Everything is connected. You need health talks, physical activities, and how-to programs. Most applications we received this year proposed a variety of programs and activities to provide the health literacy that communities need.”

The Oklahoma Health Literacy Project is funded by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services. For additional information, call 405-522-3242, or visit

2020-2021 Health Literacy grant recipients, award amounts, and plans for the funds are listed below by U.S. Congressional District and then by city or town.

Update: View three additional Health Literacy Grants awarded for 2020–2021.

U.S. Congressional District One


Bartlesville Public Library Literacy Services: $9,000 will provide a variety of exercise classes such as dance fitness, Yoga, Pound, Zumba, Tai Chi, and kickboxing. Classes will be held on cooking and nutrition, health information, and health insurance information.

U.S. Congressional District Two


Miami Public Library: $9,000 will provide a Story Walk and support a walking club. Cooking/healthy eating classes will be provided to the public and to adult learners. Classes on diabetes and heart healthy living will be presented, and a variety of exercise classes will be held ranging from Yoga to Tai Chi to Capoeira.

U.S. Congressional District Three


Great Plains Literacy Council: $9,000 will provide health literature for distribution, fitness and food programs for different age groups, Tai Chi classes, and health literacy training for literacy tutors to benefit adult learners. The Council will also co-sponsor a virtual Community Health Fair Symposium.


Piedmont Public Library: $9,000 will be used to host outside exercise activities at the Piedmont Community Park, hold additional in-house and virtual exercise classes, present healthy cooking classes, and present art classes to promote social interaction with area seniors.


Creek County Literacy Program: $9,000 will fund a Healthy Selections Adult Learner Book Club as well as cooking demonstrations and Tai Chi classes.


Mabel C. Fry Public Library: $4,000 will provide programs on healthy cooking and eating, Yoga classes, and mental health sessions focusing on stress reduction for the public, including the caregivers of senior residents.

U.S. Congressional District Four


Ada Public Library: $5,725 for Tai Chi in the Park, hands-on healthy cooking classes, healthy habits Zoom classes for persons with mental and physical disabilities, and the purchase of health literacy materials for the library’s collection and to support programming.


Southern Oklahoma Library System: $9,000 grant will provide programming at the system’s eight branches in Atoka, Carter, Johnston, Love, and Murray counties. Activities will include exercise classes and healthy food demonstrations, as well as outreach to senior centers and veterans centers with balance and exercise classes. The provision of Facebook portals will help seniors in nursing homes and residential facilities connect with family members during the pandemic.


Chickasha Public Library: $5,990 will fund a variety of Healthy Aging Initiative classes, loanable Disc Golf kits and Healthy Literacy kits, a sidewalk obstacle course for children, virtual healthy food preparation and cooking demonstration programs, and Facebook portals to help seniors in nursing homes and residential facilities connect with family.


Elgin Community Library: $4,000 grant will provide SAIL Fitness classes as well as Tai Chi, Yoga, and water aerobics classes. The library will also build a Story Walk, host a Hula Hoop and Juggling Camp, and hold classes on cooking, gardening, and CPR/First Aid.


Lawton Public Library: $9,000 will be used to construct two more Story Walks in the community due to the popularity of the existing Story Walk. The library will host promotional and programming activities related to these new Story Walks.


Maysville Public Library: $3,000 grant will be used to purchase exercise equipment for use by patrons in the library. Health and fitness resources will be added to the library’s collection, and programs on fitness, gardening, and cooking and nutrition will be held.


Moore Public Library: (A Pioneer Library System Branch): $3,000 will provide fitness and cooking programs; wellness programs on diabetes, mental health, and medications; plus outreach programs featuring chair yoga, juggling, and cooking demonstrations.


Norman Central, Norman East, and Norman West Public Libraries (Pioneer Library System Branches): $9,000 grant will purchase bicycles and fund a bicycle safety program that will provide hands-on practice in riding confidence and safety. Patrons who receive a certificate of program completion will be able to borrow ride-share bicycles.

Pioneer Library System: $11,500 will fund a mobile cooking station to provide healthy cooking classes at all system branches in Cleveland, McClain and Pottawatomie counties.

Oklahoma City

Southwest Oklahoma City Public Library (A Pioneer Library System Branch): $5,605 will fund an educational program to plant and cultivate a raised bed garden as well as provide backpacks with garden tools and resources for circulation in the community. Funding will also allow for construction of a Story Walk and a wellness workshop for library staff.

Pauls Valley

Nora Sparks Warren Memorial Library: $9,000 for a series of Zumba and Yoga exercise and fitness classes, plus classes on gardening, healthy food preparation and adopting healthy habits.


Gleason Memorial Library: $3,000 will fund Yoga classes for adults and children, programs on stress reduction, healthy cooking demonstrations, and targeted programs for diabetics.

U.S. Congressional District Five


McLoud Public Library: $7,785 will provide funds to construct a Story Walk and related promotional and programming activities.

Oklahoma City

Community Literacy Centers, Inc: $9,000 grant will fund programs on physical and mental health for adult learners, as well as publication of a book of adult learners’ essays on what they learned and how they plan to use the health information in their own lives.

Opportunities Industrialization Center of Oklahoma County: $9,000 will provide exercise sessions, healthy cooking programs, and workshops and classes on physical and mental health for clients. A Healthy Literacy Corner, in addition to a social media group and website resources, will supplement the programming. The Center will continue doing programming related to their community garden and will apply for re-certification as a Certified Healthy Business.


Shawnee Public Library (A Pioneer Library System Branch): $750 will fund healthy eating workshops for the community.


Tecumseh Public Library (A Pioneer Library System Branch): $7,796 grant will fund construction of a Story Walk in a community park.