By David Anderson, “BC/BS Foundation Awards Grants in Lenoir Co.”, ENCToday.com
Lenoir County is the first county in the state to receive grant awards through the “Spark Plug” program, an initiative of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation to promote healthy activity and nutrition.
Ten organizations and government entities in Pink Hill, Grifton and Kinston each received a $3,000 award for projects that inspired physical activity or greater nutrition in the community.
“If every county has spark plugs in it like Lenoir County does, this is going to be a huge success,” Danielle Breslin, vice president of operations for the BCBSNC Foundation, said of the program.
Grants have gone to fund projects at The Gate, the Rotary Dog Park, the Fairfield Community Center, the Kinston-Lenoir County Farmers Market, local fitness programs and others.
Tekeema Parson, founder of the Virtual Workout Crew in Kinston, is among the recipients. Parson offers the Latin dance-based exercise program Zumba workout classes several days a week at Sasparillias in the Kmart shopping center, and the funding will help her bring the classes to additional venues on more days, and purchase items such as fitness and nutrition journals for her students.
“I’m really excited about the grant because there’s so many people that wouldn’t normally go into a gym or exercise that are coming out,” she said. “It allows us to go to different venues to help people get inspired to lose weight and take charge of their health and get connected.”
Foundation officials are working with the Rensselaerville Institute, based in Rensselaerville, N.Y., and various state associations, such as the N.C. Recreation and Parks Association and the N.C. Council of Churches, to bring the initiative to three counties this year — Lenoir, Caldwell and Scotland — and if successful, expand it statewide.
“They were counties that had low health rankings on certain metrics, but with our partner organizations, we also knew that these are counties that have people in them that want to make a difference,” Breslin explained.
Dave Watson-Hallowell of the Rensselaerville Institute, who is serving as project director of Community Spark Plugs for a Healthy North Carolina, said spark plugs are “regular community members that have the passion for getting things done and they’re folks who would rather do something than sit around and complain about it.”
Watson-Hallowell said he was referred to Lenoir County Recreation Director Bill Ellis by the state Recreation and Parks Association, as a potential spark plug. He and Breslin visited Lenoir County in January and February to tour the community with Ellis and preside over a two-day workshop Feb. 10 and 11.
Each team was approved for its grant funding at the workshop.
The Cooperative Extension’s $3,000 award will go toward a cooking demonstration project at the Kinston-Lenoir County Farmer’s Market, during which local chefs and cooking enthusiasts will demonstrate how to cook produce in a healthy manner starting this spring.
“We plan to give tastes of everything we fix,” Extension Director Tammy Kelly said.
Watson-Hallowell said he was impressed by the collaboration he saw among those who attended the workshop and during his tour with Ellis, he saw a number of local projects completed with the help of volunteers.
“I was just really impressed with the spirit of volunteerism in the community,” he said.
The BCBSNC Foundation has provided the funding, and the Rensselaerville Institute will provide technical assistance over the next six months as the projects come together. Officials will then return in August to view the progress.
“I have every confidence that when we come back in August things are going to be different in Lenoir County,” Breslin said.