Giving Back & Giving Hope

Earlier this spring, Winston-Salem State University had a huge win! They were one of two HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) selected by a panel of judges to each receive a $100,000 American Heart Association (AHA) grant as part of the AHA’s first-ever EmPOWERED to Serve Urban Health Accelerator. This WSSU’s student-led project takes aim at food insecurity and addresses disparities in chronic disease rates, which are highest among racial/ethnic minority and low-income populations, and they are already putting the dollars to work in our community!

As part of the project, the Rams Fitness Academy (RFA) camp was conducted this summer, with over 80 campers enrolled in the 6-week session. Monday through Friday, these campers were provided with a nutritious breakfast and lunch, healthy snacks, physical activities, health literacy, academic enrichment, and life skills classes. In addition, campers were provided with several enrichment activities, including an introduction to gardening, developing a podcast, assisting with the artistic development of the Simon Green Atkins Community Garden Mural, and fun field trips.

Other camp activities included RFA Community Day, which included activities focusing on educational enrichment and career development. The Winston-Salem Fire Department provided experiential learning activities, and STEM activities were facilitated by staff from the Malloy Jordan /East Winston Heritage Center Public Library of Forsyth County.

RFA staff also conducted WSSU Career and College Prep Day to provide campers an occasion to explore future career opportunities. Campers engaged with WSSU professionals from the University’s Campus Police, Financial Aid Department, and coaches from the Department of Athletics.

During the camp’s American Heart Association Day, campers received information on heart health, a visit from the American Heart Association’s mascot, Thumper, and cooking lessons from the AHA’s Triad Mobile Kitchen with Chef N’gai Dickerson. Campers gained knowledge on the importance of eating heart-healthy and how to prepare healthy snacks.

The camp’s culminating event was a Showcase and Awards Day Ceremony, where campers’ families were invited to attend. The Showcase provided campers with an opportunity to share some of the many things they learned during the six-week experience.

“The success of the Rams Fitness Academy is due to engaged families, strong community partnerships, and an excellent staff. We take pride in addressing the health and well-being of our children by means of what we feel is a strategic and well-designed program that educates, motivates, and empowers our campers and their families to live healthy lifestyles. Campers and their family members often share stories of how they are exercising together more and trying healthier food options,” shared Dr. Cynthia Williams Brown, Chair & Associate Professor, Department of Health, Physical Education & Sport Studies for Winston-Salem State University. “The impact of the AHA grant over the next two years will help us increase our opportunities to address the root causes of persistent disparities and strategically continue advancing steps forward on the path to health equity.”

The AHA’s EmPOWERED to Serve Urban Health Accelerator- HBCU Leadership Summit was developed to address critical needs and social issues – in and around campuses – that impact the ability of individuals to attain optimal health. The AHA called on HBCUs from Maryland, DC, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina to help solve some of today’s most complex problems, including removing social and societal barriers.

Nineteen schools answered that call and submitted ideas for a chance to move forward to the Showcase event and on April 29, WSSU presented their exhibit and made their final pitch to the judges at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in downtown Greensboro and were awarded the funding to make their plans come to fruition.

The funding for the American Heart Association’s EmPOWERED to Serve Urban Health Accelerator – HBCU Community Wellness Challenge was made possible by the Barbara Houston Historically Black Colleges and Universities Legacy Award and through the support of Mr. John Houston, III.

“Every member of our community should be able to achieve well-being supported by the places they live, learn, work, pray, and heal,” said Jennifer Lawson, Executive Director of American Heart Association in the Triad. “We are excited to work alongside WSSU to increase the opportunity for all of our neighbors to live longer, healthier lives.”



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