Salli Benedict is the HOPE Projects Director at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.
The highly innovative HOPE Accounts for Women project combines health promotion and weight loss with economic empowerment. We are currently recruiting and training women to be leaders for this program in Lenoir County. If you know someone who has leadership skills and wants to give back to her community, please let her know about this opportunity. Women who are selected to be Circle Leaders receive 22 hours of training in health, financial literacy and goal setting. After the training, they lead a Circle made up of 8-12 women who must be overweight and have an income less than 200% of the federal poverty level—Circles meet twice a month for 7 months. Circle Leaders receive a small monthly stipend, but most importantly, both the Circle leaders and the Circle participants enroll in a savings program which matches their savings dollar for dollar up to $600 (for a total possible savings of $1200). Savings can only be used for job training, education, or starting/expanding a small business.
Our website is now live! Women in the program will have a password protected page of their own to track their savings, receive tips on health and finances, and keep a journal. There is also a public page. Check it out: www.hopeaccounts.org
Another project will begin before the end of the year: Seeds of HOPE, which will be run through local organizations including churches, workplaces and health clinics. Both of these projects focus on weight loss—a serious health concern for women in eastern NC, where up to 70% of women are overweight or obese. But they take a holistic approach to health by addressing one of the biggest causes of poor health: poverty. Seeds of HOPE will not offer the matched savings program, but will include more training on business development and microenterprises as well as training in financial literacy, along with healthy eating, physical activity, stress management and goal setting.
Our Community Action Council (CAC) is made up of folks from Lenoir, Robeson, Sampson and Duplin Counties, and meets monthly with the UNC-based staff to oversee our projects. The CAC also holds a working retreat each year, and two Kinston-based CAC members attended the Sept. 24-26 meeting to help design recruitment strategies for enrolling women in Kinston.
The wise leadership of the CAC along with innovative thinking by UNC researchers and funding from both the National Institutes for Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention combined to give us this wonderful opportunity to bring the HOPE Projects to Lenoir County.