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Kennedy Wellness Center Opens with Unique Mission to Improve Health in Mississippi Delta

James Kennedy and Dr. Catherine Woodyard
James Kennedy and Dr. Catherine Woodyard

The James C. Kennedy Wellness Center opened recently in Charleston, Mississippi, and is heralded as an incredible opportunity for improved health and wellness in the Mississippi Delta.

Funded by Jim and Sarah Kennedy of Atlanta, the $4.2 million Center will operate a wide range of programs in the Delta, which has one of the highest rates of obesity, diabetes, and teen pregnancies in the nation.

 Jim Blackwood of Oxford is the CEO of Tallahatchie General Hospital, which oversees the broad-based effort.

Jim Blackwood of Oxford is the CEO of Tallahatchie General Hospital, which oversees the broad-based effort.

Mr. Kennedy, a noted philanthropist, owns a duck hunting lodge in Tallahatchie County, located just outside of Charleston. He told visitors “I love coming here and we wanted to give back to this community.”

Creation of the James C. Kennedy Wellness Center resulted in a large measure from the doctoral research of Dr. Catherine Woodyard, formerly of Oxford. Dr. Woodyard conducted a community health needs assessment for Charleston for her doctoral dissertation study directed by Professor Jeff Hallam in the School of Applied Sciences at the University of Mississippi. Faculty and service units from both the Oxford and Jackson campuses of the University of Mississippi have been involved in the effort. Dr. Woodyard now serves as the Center’s Executive Director.

Morgan Freeman
Morgan Freeman

“Our mission is to provide individuals and families with the resources and information they need to obtain optimal wellness. We aim to promote health and wellness through education, extensive community outreach and initiatives that encourage habits of wellness, increase awareness of factors and resources contributing to well-being, inspire and empower individuals to take responsibility for their own health, and support a sense of community,” Dr. Woodward said.

“The James C. Kennedy Wellness Center offers numerous resources, programs, and opportunities designed to improve health, enhance lives and help individuals reach optimal states of wellness. The majority of our programming is housed under the umbrella of Tallahatchie Wellness and currently includes the following: A Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (CDSMP), an after school youth program, a TGH employee wellness program, Cooking Classes, an annual health fair carnival and the annual Tallahatchie Wellness Challenge,” she said in addition. 

kennedy center

Development of the health and wellness focus was prompted by community discussions fostered through the Charleston Arts and Revitalization Effort (CARE), a community organization representing a diverse group of area leaders. Morgan Freeman, a long-time activist for better education, health and enrichment of the arts in the region, was on hand for the dedication. Mr. Freeman is a former resident of Charleston and benefactor for a number of community and educational programs.

The 20,000 square foot facility incorporates sustainable building elements such as solar panels, high-efficiency HVAC, and lighting, and an energy-efficient building envelope. It includes a large multi-purpose space for group fitness classes, an exercise and fitness room with cardio equipment, free weights and weight machines, kitchen for cooking demonstrations, and classroom space. The facility will also house outpatient physical and occupational therapy as well as a behavioral health for seniors.

kennedy center

The “Path to Wellness” trail was developed in partnership with the PATH Foundation of Atlanta featuring educational signage on preventive health care and energy conservation. The campus also includes a playground, picnic tables and benches, a pond and a wellness garden, providing a source for local produce.

A $550,000 grant written by Dr. Woodyard and Dr. Adole Muruako was secured from the Health Resources and Services Administration Rural Health Care Services Program to fund the majority of programming costs over the next three years.


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