Seven years ago, real estate agent Alvin Moore nearly fell into a diabetic coma. He had thought he was merely suffering from a cold. Then he collapsed and was rushed to the emergency room.
When Moore, an Eatonville Councilmember at the time, shared his story at a town council meeting soon after his four-day hospital stay, person after person came up to him to say they had diabetes or prediabetes.
Moore was overwhelmed by the response. “Wow, that’s a lot of people,” he thought.
So, he reached out to the Orlando chapter of the American Diabetes Association and the Winter Park Health Foundation, an Orlando-area philanthropy. Within months, the foundation supported a baseline study that uncovered a shocking finding: Nearly 1 in 4 Eatonville adults had diabetes.
With the problem quantified, the town became galvanized not only to fight diabetes, but also to make Eatonville a healthier place. Important institutions, such as town hall and Eatonville’s nine churches, got involved in boosting physical activity and diabetes awareness. In 2011, then-Mayor Bruce Mount launched “Walk and Talk With the Mayor,” which 20 to 30 people turned out for twice a week. And the Winter Park Health Foundation, the Orlando chapter of the American Diabetes Association, and Eatonville churches brought a church-based diabetes prevention, education, and management program to town in 2012.
To boost the community’s efforts in moving from awareness and management to addressing the root causes of physical inactivity and poor nutrition, Healthy Central Florida—an initiative of the Winter Park Health Foundation and Florida Hospital—created Healthy Eatonville Team. It is made up of residents and partners from nonprofits and health and social service organizations who recommended ways to make the town healthier.
“We look at the needs in the Eatonville community and see how we can meet those needs,” says current Healthy Eatonville Team co-facilitator Pradely Merone, a community events specialist at Community Health Centers, an Orlando clinic that serves Eatonville residents.
Over the past few years, Healthy Eatonville Team has refurbished the gym of the town’s shuttered high school, installed bike racks around town, and funded nonprofit- and church-led projects such as a fruit and veggie stand and a free bike share at Eatonville’s library. They also advocated for a healthy community design when the town updated its community redevelopment master plan, which governs taxpayer-funded urban revitalization efforts, in 2016. Now health-minded changes like sidewalk renovations, street lighting, and improved parks are eligible for funding.
Healthy Eatonville Team also suggested having a visible storefront location in town for diabetes and wellness programs. In 2014, Healthy Central Florida and Florida Hospital founded Healthy Eatonville Place—which provides health and wellness services, and studies approaches to prevent and manage diabetes—in an existing building in the town.
People who agree to monitor and track their health goals with Healthy Eatonville Place staff receive one-on-one support and take part in free nutrition, cooking, and other classes to help prevent or control diabetes. They can also participate in support groups. Participants’ progress and biometrics are tracked at six-month intervals, and the data are being used to find ways to better fight diabetes. The center’s staff and researchers believe they’re on the right track: Of 273 participants followed for six months to three years, 97 percent diagnosed with prediabetes did not develop diabetes, according to Florida Hospital results released this year. Eighty percent who started with uncontrolled diabetes reached their blood pressure goals, an important step toward reducing risk of heart disease and stroke.
“As a nurse, it’s been so refreshing to see the community really concerned and making changes and improvements” for better health, says Tonja Williams, parish nurse at Eatonville’s Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church. “We’re just really pulling together to make it happen.”