Hope, Health and Women’s Empowerment in Lenoir County

About the Author

CED Guest Author

Salli Benedict is the HOPE Projects Director at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

 Why is there a direct relationship between poverty and most health problems, including overweight and obesity?  Have you noticed that the poorest rural counties in North Carolina also have the highest rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease?  And what does the universal concept of hope, so central to us as human beings, have to do with these issues?

A new women’s program will address those issues: HOPE Accounts for Women is the result of an 11-year process of community-based participatory research, and our 5th funded research project.  It’s arguably the most innovative and cutting edge project our energetic and committed community and university team has developed to date.  Funded by the National Institutes for Health as part of the Recovery Act, it’s so different from other programs to reduce obesity that it is literally the only one like it listed in the National Institutes for Health data base!  It’s already getting attention from national and international groups.

HOPE Accounts borrows concepts from strategies used in developing countries (loan circles, microenterprise development), and from a poverty-reduction strategy called “individual development accounts” or IDA’s.  IDA’s use matched savings to help low wealth families build financial assets and are usually administered through the Department of Labor.  We use an “alternative IDA” model that combines financial literacy, savings accounts, healthy eating, exercise and weight loss in a holistic program.  In HOPE Accounts for Women, savings will be matched 1:1 at the end of a 7 month series of women’s support and empowerment groups called HOPE Circles. Women’s savings will be used for furthering education, starting or expanding a small business or gaining job skills.

Last month we began recruiting women in Kinston and Lenoir County to be HOPE Circle Leaders–they’ll get over 22 hours of training for leading the HOPE Circles, and lots of support from the Kinston-based Community Coordinator, Francine Wimberly.  The Lenoir County trainings will be held in August, and the Circles will start in September and last through March 2011.

HOPE Accounts for Women is going to be active in Lenoir, Duplin, Sampson and Robeson Counties. But I’m especially excited to be working in Lenoir County again: from 1993-2003, I was project manager for 3 health promotion programs for women who worked in manufacturing plants in Lenoir County.  Coming back to Kinston after 6 years has been exciting–the sense of optimism and the amazing energy in the community are contagious.  The women from Kinston who have  committed to be Circle Leaders are going to make a difference in women’s lives in Lenoir County.

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