By Tina Dirmann
staff writer for BCBSLA Foundation
You know you have a successful health fair on your hands when it turns into a true community gathering.
And that’s exactly what we saw while visiting the Jena Band of Choctaw Health Fair last Saturday. Some 90 Choctaw members and their spouses made their way to the tribe’s administrative center in Jena, La, where the band’s health department hosted this special event. There was the usual health fair stuff — blood pressure checks, cholesterol and blood sugar readings, vision tests, flu shots… But there were also those other elements that make a get together with friends special — including lots of food (healthy stuff like veggies and dip, cups of fruit, and small treats, including trays of mini-cupcakes — mmmm!). Tables and chairs, for just sitting and chatting with neighbors. And a community raffle, giving away everything from toys to ice chests and active gear.
“This gives us a chance as a community to come together, visit, have fun,” said Mona Maxwell, social services director for Jena Band of Choctaw, who was working the aforementioned food and treat table. “And at the same time, there are opportunities to get yourself checked out and learn about the resources that are available.”
Jo Lewis showed up with her 67-year-old mother, keen on getting flu shots and blood pressure checks.
“I know a lot of people don’t want to take the time to do this, ” Lewis said. “But I just started taking blood pressure medication, so, I have to stay on top of it. And for my mom, I want her to get herself checked-out, too.”
However, we did find someone who very surely didnot want to be there on Saturday — 3-year-old Sawyer Newton.
We’ll get through this together, mom! Three year old Sawyer holds mom’s hand in preparation for her flu shot.
“I don’t want to get a shot,” he emphatically told his mom, holding back tears while waiting in line for his inoculation injection. “I don’t like shots!”
And not even 5-year-old brother, Jaden Newton, taking his shot “like a man,” could change little Sawyer’s mind. Jaden flexed his arm into a muscle-man move after the flu shot was over, proclaiming, “I was a big boy, mama!”
Somehow, Sawyer made it through and was rewarded with a couple of mini-cupcakes. See, it wasn’t all bad, Sawyer!
Tribal Chief Cheryl Smith told us how important a health fair is for her community, where regular doctor visits aren’t much of a priority. As a result, 40 percent of the 294 member tribe is currently fighting some sort of chronic illness, including hypertension, obesity and heart disease. And 22.6 percent of members grapple with type 2 diabetes.
“They may not go to a doctor, but they’ll come here because it’s easy and convenient,” Smith said. “And also because it’s a happy get together for everyone. We’re offering door prizes and food and people visit with each other. This is one of the top turn-out events for the tribe, aside from our annual Christmas party.”
This year’s health fair was sponsored, in part, through a $10,000 grant from Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana, a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation wellness initiative. In 2012, the Foundation awarded a $1 million grant to the Live Lively LaSalle project, which helps support Choctaw health measures.
Even Jena Mayor Murphy McMillian showed up to offer his moral support.
“And let me tell you, I had trouble finding a parking space,” McMillian said. “And that’s a good problem to have. It means they had a great turn out today.”