Healthy Eatonville Place may be a diabetes education center, but more importantly, it's a "place of trust" empowering residents to live healthier – and better.
In 2011, a major community health study revealed a prevalence of diabetes in Eatonville that bordered on the epidemic: 24 percent of the town's population suffered from the disease – nearly three times the national rate.
Even more alarming, the rate of occurrence doubled the norm for African Americans, who comprise most of Eatonville's population.
Spurred by the discovery, Healthy Central Florida – a health advocacy group established by Florida Hospital and the Winter Park Health Foundation – joined Eatonville leaders and residents to tackle the health crisis. Months of collaboration and dialogue led to an unprecedented community initiative: The creation of Healthy Eatonville Place, a diabetes education and research center built in the heart of Eatonville.
Its mission: Identify individuals who may be undiagnosed, help those with the disease better manage their condition and encourage healthier lifestyles to prevent the disease altogether. The facility offers numerous classes – promoting topics such as exercise, nutrition, and diabetes counseling – and provides support groups as well. Thanks to financial assistance from Florida Hospital, Winter Park Health Foundation and pharmaceutical company Sanofi Aventis, nearly all of the programs are offered free of charge or for a nominal fee. In addition, data gathered from heath screenings is being used as part of a major research study to find ways to better fight diabetes.
But what distinguishes Healthy Eatonville Place from typical diabetes education programs is its permanence: It's a community pillar, an enduring physical facility where residents can receive continuous support. Such a long-term investment not only reflects Florida Hospital's philosophy of healthcare as ministry, but the organization's commitment to preventive medicine and fiscal responsibility.
"If you don't have a healthy community, it's going to impact us negatively over the long term," says Julie Clyatt, a nurse practitioner who oversees Healthy Eatonville Place. "That's a financial burden we cannot afford."
A 2011 community health study revealed that 24 percent of Eatonville's population suffers from diabetes – nearly three times the national rate. Town leaders and residents responded to the health crisis by creating Healthy Eatonville Place, a one-of-a-kind diabetes education and research center.
Clyatt and residents agree that the continuity Healthy Eatonville Place delivers creates trust, which in turn, fosters an environment for real dialogue.
"Making lifestyle changes is hard," Clyatt says. "It takes time for people to really commit to change. But with having us in Eatonville, we can make that change occur quicker. It's a place you can go and get encouragement. It's not clinical.
"One of the challenges we face, and it's a big hurdle, is we've heard several people say, 'I don't want to know my risk. That scares me.' It's the fear of knowing what they'll find out and then having to act on that. We're really trying to communicate that knowledge is power. We are empowering you to make choices and decisions."
Felix Lake, 69, a long-time Eatonville resident and Army veteran, embraced that opportunity. Diagnosed with diabetes nearly 20 years ago, Lake has attended countless diabetes programs over the years, but none has transformed his life like the one taught at Healthy Eatonville Place.
He says the HEP classes in no uncertain terms "makes the connection between the disease and its complications" that can be fatal – and enabled him to make behavioral changes to live healthier. Felix, who has lost six family members to the disease, now walks four miles daily.
Likewise, Darlene Zackery, has completed several classes at Healthy Eatonville Place. The 61-year-old woman with pre-diabetes has become a poster child for the center: She eats better, carefully monitors her blood-sugar level, has dropped about 20 pounds, and now, is going to the gym twice weekly for weight training. She says proudly: "I'm starting to get muscles!"
More importantly, Zackery plans to serve as a self-appointed ambassador for Healthy Eatonville Place.
"I believe in it so much," she says. "I'm going to get flyers for Healthy Eatonville Place and go knock on doors and pass them out. I want to let everyone know that there's something there for you."