HAZARD — A series of focus groups are being held across the county to gauge the feasibility of a local wellness center.
The Perry County Wellness Coalition is looking to create more opportunities for the people of Perry County to access exercise and nutrition information. Perry County and all of Eastern Kentucky tend to find themselves at the bottom of most lists concerning health and healthy habits. Poor general nutrition, lack of exercise, and unhealthy habits such as smoking plague the region. Through education and opportunities, some communities are starting to see positive results in efforts to change these habits.
About a year ago people with the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky in Chavies began to consider the idea of how to improve the overall health of Perry County. Along with community partners, they formed the Perry County Wellness Coalition, which has been working on this very issue.
“These were a group of people that were either self-identified or were identified by the group as being actively interested in the wellness of the community, and taking that into the more broad term wellness,” said Les Roll with the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development who is also working with the Perry County Wellness Coalition.
When the group was finalized, they began meeting monthly, not at as a decision making group but as a networking and pass-through group to discuss ideas and gather information from the community.
“During that initial meeting it became very obvious that most of us were looking for a fitness center in Perry County that would be accessible to most of the county or all of the county,” said Roll. “It would provide what a lot of us identified that we were missing, which is indoor exercise and fitness opportunities, group fitness opportunities.”
Roll said the group is exploring what the various concerns of the community are, and what they would like to see as the solution. They have received the input of nearly 450 people in the county through a community survey, and are now hosting focus groups to further gauge the interest on creating a wellness center.
The wellness center would create opportunities for fitness that are not currently available at the smaller, less well-equipped gyms in Perry County. They would look to create a space for large group fitness in the form of martial arts or Zumba. Eventually, they would also like to include nutrition and mental health classes.
While many of these classes can be found throughout the community, finding space large enough or capable of being used regularly has been a concern for the people in the class and those teaching them.
“They are sorely space limited,” said Roll. “Hazard Fit Club, for example, that primarily runs the Zumba classes, has had up to 150 in a class when they have had the space. Then they are down working at the senior citizens center which is fairly good on space but is limiting on scheduling and opportunity.”
The group is also looking at individual physical fitness opportunities such as cardio and weight lifting equipment that would be available all of the time.
The Wellness Coalition has hosted two focus groups that centered on specific demographics of people.
“So far we have had focus groups at the senior citizens center and at Buckhorn High School, so we have got two specific demographic groups,” said Allison Tse, an AmeriCorps VISTA working with the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky.
Tse said that one of the more interesting things that they have found out from these focus groups is people looking not only for a place to work out, but also a safe place to hang out. The teens at Buckhorn mentioned the problems they have had finding places to go outside of school events.
For this next focus group, coalition members are looking for a wider, more encompassing demographic. Any and all members of the community are invited to come and voice an opinion and find out more information about the coalition and the proposed wellness center. The group will meet on Nov. 14, at 6 p.m. at the Perry County Library. More information about the event can before on the Perry County Wellness Coalition’s Facebook page.