HealthWorks! marks its second year

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Over the past two years, they’ve “Scrubbadubbathinkercised,” hosted several hooplas and handed out crazy trophies at their own 10K race.
As HealthWorks! Children Education Center gets ready to celebrate its second anniversary, its leaders see a bright, tie-dyed future for the health of the region. The high-energy, interactive programs have made health education fun.
“It’s all pretty amazing,” said Donna Loden, the HealthWorks! imaginator of awesome experiences, or programing director.
Many schools tell Loden that HealthWorks! is their first choice – and with tight budgets often their only choice – for field trips.
“Overwhelmingly they say this is where the children want to come,” Loden said.
It’s not just all flashing lights and slapstick, although the high-flying kid motivators, as the center’s health educators are called, know how to get the youngsters’ attention with a bit of bathroom humor during a digestive system presentation.
The center is accredited by the Mississippi State Department of Education as a supplemental health education provider. The center’s programs are aligned to the state curriculum frameworks.
“It really added to what we’re doing in the classroom because it’s hands-on,” said Betsy Collums, a teacher at Houlka Attendance Center.
Collums brought her CLUE gifted class to HealthWorks! as part of their study on careers. HealthWorks! put together a program where the students became doctors and nurses for the day and had to gather symptoms and put together diagnoses.
“As a parent and an educator, I’m just pleased we have it in the area,” Collums said.
Part of the secret to the success of HealthWorks! is that it’s such a different experience from the regular classroom.
“They don’t understand that they’re learning,” Healthworks! staff member Helen Boerner said. “They think they’re having fun.”
But Boerner knows they’re retaining the HealthWorks! experience, especially when she runs into kids in the grocery store.
“You have to watch what you put in the cart,” Boerner said with a laugh.
Those experiences are borne out by the data, too. HealthWorks! is continuing to see positive results from evaluations conducted by the Mississippi State University Social Science Research Center.
Not only are teachers and students happy with their visit, but also pre- and post-tests show that the kids are learning more, said Ginger Cross, a research fellow with the MSU center.
“A higher percentage of students are answering the health-related test questions correctly after they visit HealthWorks! compared to before their visit,” Cross said.
The people who led the charge to create HealthWorks! couldn’t be happier.
“The entire project is far beyond what we thought it would be,” said Dean Hancock, president of the Health Care Foundation of North Mississippi.
The foundation is the philanthropic arm of North Mississippi Health Services, which spearheaded the community effort to make HealthWorks! a reality.
Based on the original HealthWorks! in South Bend, Ind., the Tupelo center was designed around providing health education through school field trips.
“The community programming is equally important,” Hancock said.
Junior Auxiliary and Lee County Medical Alliance have partnered with HealthWorks! to make healthy lifestyle classes available to kids. Civic organizations like Rotary and the Kiwanis Club have helped fund program scholarships. The Kohl’s A-team comes out to make Wacky Hats for special HealthWorks! events.
The center has hosted two Girl Scout badge days with great success. They took HealthWorks! on the road to Tupelo Schools’ summer feeding program sites.
HealthWorks! staff has been involved with the Mayor’s Healthy Community Task Force, lending its creative juices to events like the Mayor’s Marathon and Trim Down Tone Up Tupelo.
“It’s almost like being in the right place at the right time; we didn’t invent this stuff,” said Hancock, noting long-standing community health efforts. But HealthWorks! does seem to provide a synergy for families.
“We can get parents excited if we can get the kids excited,” Hancock said.
The center’s $6 million capital campaign will sustain the center’s core operations through 2014. In all, Health Care Foundation has invested about $7.7 million to bring HealthWorks! to North Mississippi.
Through admission fees and other income, the center generates about $4 per visit. It costs about $14 a visit to run the center. Ongoing charitable support will always be necessary for HealthWorks! to keep admission low and accessible to the entire community, Hancock said.
“It takes about $400,000 to run HealthWorks core operations annually,” Hancock said.
The Health Care Foundation will be slowly ramping up work on establishing annual charitable giving for the center.
“We’ll always need to raise money for HealthWorks!,” Hancock said.
HealthWorks! has received two key grants in the past two years.
A $152,000, two-year federal grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission provides field trips to HealthWorks! in 12 Northeast Mississippi counties identified by ARC criteria as “distressed.” That’s been especially important because of tight school budgets, Loden said. The grant also has let HealthWorks! take the Rev It Up! physical activity program into those schools.
Okolona Elementary School Principal Gregory Stephens said he saw the HealthWorks! experiences spark interest in the school’s third-, fourth- and fifth-graders.
“I think they’re learning how to take this and apply it outside of school, not just inside of school,” Stephens said.
In partnership with the CREATE Foundation, HealthWorks! received a nearly $400,000 federal grant to create SHAPE, which is a clearinghouse for best practice information on health and physical education. The goal is to get the most successful programs and resources to schools and teachers to help them fight childhood obesity.
SHAPE will host a wellness summit for school nurses, nutrition directors, health council members and educators in February to respond to needs identified through focus groups and surveys. More than 120 from 37 school districts have signed up, filling the free conference.
Contact Michaela Gibson Morris at (662) 678-1599 or michaela.morris@journalinc.com.

HealthWorks! 2nd Birthday Party

10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday

Admission $2 for 2 and up; free to members

More info: (662) 377-5437 or www.healthworkskids.org

Bring new infant toy to donate to Care Bear Room for NMMC pediatric patients.
Featured events:

• At 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Stormin’ Bob, the singing weatherman, will perform

• HealthWorks! Tune Time: Bring your best healthy tune to compete; costumes, instruments and creativity encouraged! Grand prize is 1-year membership to HealthWorks!

• Vote for a kindergarten-8th grade class to receive a free field trip to HealthWorks on Feb. 24.