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CLINTON, NC – A high chance of rain, an outdoor walkathon and an early Saturday morning. In normal circumstances, this combination might make for a dismal day. Yet it was nothing but energy and excitement in Clinton, North Carolina, on September 26th when HOPE Works celebrated the wrap-up of its five-year program with a 4K Fun Walk and health fair.

HOPE Works stands for Health, Opportunity, Partnership, Empowerment Works and is an innovative intervention approach to address the serious problem of obesity among low-income and minority women in Duplin and Sampson counties in North Carolina. HOPE Works organizes women into HOPE circles of 10 to 12 women. These HOPE Circles provide social support, teach strategies for weight management, and help women set goals for reaching health, economic and educational objectives.

HOPE Works was a five-year project that began in 2004. The next generation of HOPE Works, Seeds of HOPE, began on September 30. Seeds of HOPE will continue to offer HOPE Circles for women in eastern NC and to work to improve health through goal setting, but will have a stronger emphasis on increasing financial literacy, starting businesses and moving out of poverty.

Netta Carlton, a HOPE Circle leader, attested to the inspiration that HOPE Works has brought to the community. “When I have my circle, it helps me because I’m helping someone else to do something positive with their life,” she said. “We don’t only help each other lose weight. I’ve helped others go back to school. For me, it was a 30-year struggle for my degree.”

The day began with a sea of approximately 100 yellow shirts filling sidewalks of downtown Clinton at 9 a.m. for a 4K walkathon. A variety of health organizations and vendors welcomed the walkers at the finish line in Clinton City Market.

“We’re here to help educate the community on physical activity, nutrition and being more active overall,” said Marla Taylor, a representative for the Sampson County Partnership for Healthy Carolinians. “We do a lot of different things. Basically, we do whatever the community needs.”

The health fair offered free health screenings, including bone density exams, BMI screenings, blood pressure, vision and many more. Kosterman Chiropractic Center, which has been operating in North Carolina for more than 70 years, offered free chiropractic screenings from.

“Nerves control everything and we like to address the cause,” said Dr. Stephen Kosterman. “If your nerves function properly, it helps you digest your food better, sleep better, feel better and just have more energy overall. Kosterman also described his practice as a community servant. “We want to see what issues are going on in the community and see what we can do about them,” he said.

In addition to the screenings, local businesses and organizations provided giveaways and information to support HOPE Works’ goal of getting healthy by eating nutritiously and getting active. Event coordinators handed out water bottles and free food diaries.

In a demonstration that was both repelling and eye-opening, the Sampson County Partnership for Healthy Carolinians set up test tubes of body fat to show how different foods from cheeseburgers to trail mix measured up in fat grams.

Shortly after the health fair began, the DJ Joey Warren cranked up the music and invited participants to head out to the dance floor. Women of all ages and backgrounds (and even a few men) competed in hula hoop contests, danced the Twist and boogied to the Cuban shuffle. HOPE Works project director Salli Benedict made it to the finals of a dance-off for her moves to the Twist.

While the event offered practical health information, inspiring stories and entertainment, the real highlight of the day was the good news delivered by Benedict: the HOPE Works Community Advisory Committee, in partnership with the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, received a Recovery Act challenge grant, meaning that $1 million dollars will supplement HOPE Works’ goal to alleviate the economic barriers of minority women in rural N.C. so that the women can focus on living healthy.

“One big barrier to people getting loans is that they need to have savings or collateral to get approved,” said Marci Campbell, the principal investigator of both HOPE Works and Seeds of HOPE. “Seeds of HOPE will help people build health and get a loan. We think that is really powerful and what the stimulus funds are supposed to do.”

Darlene Leysath, a former HOPE Circle leader and current member of the HOPE Works Community Advisory Committee, performed a praise dance after the big news to the song “You Are Great.”

“I want to connect other women to the project so they can have hope,” said Leysath, who became an owner of a Curves after getting involved with HOPE Works. “The big word is empowerment.”

While the majority of the organizations at the event were health related, a few of the booths raised money for local causes. Joyous Praise Youth Department, a local Clinton youth group, sold nutritious fruit pops and smoothies to energize the dancers and walkers at the event. Threads of HOPE, an entrepreneurship started by HOPE Works, promoted its designed totes and jewelry and stood as a symbol of the economic freedom initiated by the project.

Sponsors of the HOPE Works Fun Walk 4K included:

  • Joyous Praise Christian Fellowship Church
  • Hope Works
  • Curves
  • Tri-County Community Health Center
  • Danny Lee Trucking
  • The UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
  • Healthy Carolinians
  • Threads of HOPE
  • Kosterman Chiropractic Center
  • American Cancer Society
  • Coharie Intra Tribal Center
  • Sampson Regional Medical Center
  • Mary Mac, Inc.
  • Sagrada Familia Episcopal
  • Sampson County Health Dept
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