September 18, 2013 9:50:45 AM
A community-wide health initiative will soon be taking place in Lowndes County.
Passport to Wellness is a year-long initiative sponsored by Mississippi University for Women that partners with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation and local schools. The program will kick off next May but project organizers have already been working on Passport to Wellness for more than 18 months, according to MUW's Kate Brown.
Funded by a $252,300 grant, Passport to Wellness will work with Franklin Academy, Joe Cook Elementary and Annunciation Catholic School to encourage students to make healthier lifestyle choices.
Columbus Municipal School District assistant superintendent Craig Shannon said the program will help the school district educate the whole child. CMSD will receive approximately $25,000 of the Passport to Wellness grant money.
"In accordance with Columbus Municipal School District's efforts to try to find unique ways to educate the whole child, a partnership has been formed with Mississippi University for Women's Center for Creative Learning that resulted in our district receiving the Passport to Wellness Grant in excess of $25,000," Shannon said.
In addition to targeting the students, Project to Wellness will also promote a healthy lifestyle among faculty and staff at MUW as well as community members by asking them to make healthier day-to-day choices.
Brown said the grant money will fund a new walking track at Franklin Academy that will not only be accessible by the students but also open to the public. The track will be built in a labyrinth design to maximize the use of the space.
Currently, Franklin does not have an area where students can exercise other than their playground and Brown said that space is limited.
"They don't have a lot of space and they don't have an area to do cardio," she said.
Brown added the labyrinth will also allow users to walk and run as well as meditate, saying, "It's a good design for a small space."
Shannon said the grant will also provide P.E. equipment for Franklin students.
"This grant will allow us to place a Labyrinth Walking Track at Franklin and P.E. equipment at both sites," he said. "It will also help us to improve the overall wellness of our students and teachers, in addition to providing a safe place to walk for our community members after school hours. We are appreciative to staff at Cook, Franklin, and MUW for forming this partnership to benefit our students."
The grant will also provide for 20 P.E. teachers to host a summer conference next July that will give them tools to bring back to the classroom.
In addition to focusing on educating children on healthy choices, Brown said the university is also creating a campaign that serves adults. MUW will launch several pilot programs, including one that encourages faculty members to take their meetings outside while walking around campus. Campus officials also hope to partner with local restaurants and the Hitching Lot Farmers' Market ,as well as host monthly workshops in an effort to educate citizens about healthy eating habits.
Lowndes County has an obesity rate of 37.2 percent and a diabetes rate of 13.9 percent. By fostering a supportive community of fellow adults being healthy and active, Passport to Wellness hopes to combat those figures.
"There is a tremendous need for a community wellness initiative in Lowndes County as evidenced by the high number of residents experiencing preventable chronic and life threatening illness," the press release noted.
Sheila Grogan, Executive Director of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation, said Passport to Wellness is a way to educate Mississippians while promoting a healthy lifestyle change.
"We are proud to support the Passport to Wellness program," Grogan said. "Our goal is to help many generations of Mississippians live healthier lives today and tomorrow. We realize the best way to reach this goal is through partnership with organizations like the Mississippi University for Women and the Passport to Wellness program."
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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