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‘Slinging of sledgehammers’ jump starts HealthWorks! project

It wasn’t a groundbreaking, but rather a “slinging of sledgehammers,” as one attendee noted, as Health Care Foundation of North Mississippi officials and area community leaders recently celebrated another step in making the HealthWorks! children’s health education resource center a reality.

In late January, officials took a ceremonial step by busting out a few bricks in the former Kroger building on Industrial Road in Tupelo to initiate the process of converting the facility into an interactive space for children. With a projected fall 2008 completion date, the 15,000-square-foot learning center will house approximately 19 interactive exhibits, two classrooms and an interactive brain theater. Research of primary health issues affecting the population by Mississippi State University’s Social Science Research Center led the foundation and community leaders to focus on the following areas within the scope of the HealthWorks! project: good nutrition, oral health, tobacco prevention and fitness.

“This is a great day in the history of the foundation and the HealthWorks! program,” said Dean Hancock, Health Care Foundation of North Mississippi executive director. “This isn’t something that we planned overnight. This milestone represents the dedication and hard work of many people who care about the future of our region.”

To date, approximately $4.7 million of the estimated $6 million has been raised. Twenty organizations and businesses have pledged gifts of $100,000 or more, according to information provided by foundation officials. The Tupelo-based HealthWorks! effort is modeled after the original in South Bend, Ind., which local area leaders visited as part of their assessment process in developing the project here. Donna Loden, a Tupelo educator, will be responsible for curriculum and educational leadership at the HealthWorks! facility in Tupelo.

Linda Stokes, HealthWorks! development and public relations coordinator in Tupelo, stated that this initiative represents another step in the foundation’s commitment to community health issues. She noted that the group has funded nursing and health educator positions in schools throughout the region for several years now, and that HealthWorks! provides an exciting opportunity for teachers and community leaders to work together towards the shared goal of improved community health in an interesting and informative manner.

With a primary target of grades K-8, Stokes said that HealthWorks! aims to reach students within a 200 mile radius of the facility. She said that she has been busy visiting with superintendents and other school-related officials to let them know what is planned, and artists’ renderings of some of the exhibits reinforce the innovation of the exhibits.

For example, one exhibit called “Big Mouth” teaches the importance of brushing and flossing via a model of a mouth. Another called “Keepin’ It Clean” promotes hand washing while “Dr. Nose-It-All” teaches via a trivia game how germs cause colds, sore throats and earaches. “Supersize” — an exhibit in the shape of a cup — demonstrates how much exercise is needed to burn off calories of various drink sizes.

Beyond the exhibits, there are lessons that are available to teachers before and after any HealthWorks! field trips, and there are two high-tech classrooms where groups also meet during their visits.

Stokes said the entire HealthWorks! emphasis is to share information in a positive way.

“It’s all about making good choices,” Stokes says.

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