OUR OPINION: HealthWorks! has made its presence felt

The former First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush, will be in Tupelo tonight to speak to a celebratory fundraising dinner for the now almost five-year-old HealthWorks! initiative.

Her visit, it goes without saying, is an honor for the city, region and state, not to mention the sponsoring Health Care Foundation of North Mississippi. Mrs. Bush’s interests and causes – notably education, children’s welfare and health care philanthropy – are well-known and closely attuned to the HealthWorks! mission. As a former school teacher, she speaks from experience.

In short, she’s a great choice to help add to the momentum of HealthWorks! capital campaign, which aims to eliminate a $1.8 million debt and is only about $400,000 short.

HealthWorks! ranks among the great success stories of Tupelo and Northeast Mississippi. A total of $6.7 million has been invested since the initial campaign in 2006, and all of that has come from individual and corporate donations.

Like so many other initiatives in the community and region, HealthWorks! resulted from a powerful combination of vision and action. The vision was to improve the health of children at a time when that had come to the fore as a critical need, especially as the childhood obesity epidemic had taken hold. The center has sought to inculcate lifelong habits that lead to and sustain good health.

The genius of HealthWorks! is in making the experience so whimsically enjoyable – “infectiously contaminating fun,” as its staff likes to say – that children don’t even think of themselves as being in a “learning” mode. That can be the most effective kind of learning there is.

It was modeled after the first facility of its kind in South Bend, Ind., and since opening in January 2009 it has brought thousands of schoolchildren to its location in a remodeled former supermarket and has taken its programs into schools as well.

After five years, the impact of this health education center on the region, state and beyond is measurable and positive. As Health Care Foundation President Dean Hancock said in Sunday’s Daily Journal, it has turned into “a recognized and important resource for children’s and family health literacy.”

If the next five years offer the kind of excitement and innovation of the first five, HealthWorks! will only continue to grow in impact and influence. Considering the vital importance of its mission in this health-challenged state, we should all hope for its continued growth and development.