Reading at the Park: Making a Difference One Book at a Time

Reading at the Park: Making a Difference One Book at a Time

Reading is an essential part of learning, especially for children. However, in Mississippi, families may find it difficult to access the resources they need to prepare their children for school. That’s where community initiatives like Reading at the Park come into play. 

Founded with a mission toward education, Reading at the Park (RAP) serves to improve literacy and educational outcomes for Mississippi children by increasing access to books for local communities. Read on to learn more! 

The Need

A 2019 study conducted by the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE), found that 63% of kindergarten students in the state are below the Kindergarten Readiness Benchmark (AKA: K-Readiness) for reading comprehension and literacy. Meeting this requirement not only suggests that children are ready for kindergarten, but also that they are well-equipped to meet fundamental educational benchmarks through Grade 3. 

The requirements for the K-Readiness Benchmark include a 70% “mastery of knowledge and skills in early literacy and numeracy” and is correlated with a score of 530 out of 900. In 2019, the average K-Readiness Assessment score in Mississippi was 502, representing a huge need for increased access to early learning programs and resources for reading comprehension and literacy across the state. 

The Disparity

Mississippi is considered a “book desert” or a region that has poor access to reading materials. Data aggregated from United Books, suggests that only 19% of homes in Mississippi have an adequate number of books for early learning. Having a well-stocked library at home has been proven to benefit children in several ways. Children who grow up with books are more likely to have higher literacy and numeracy skills, as well as become life-long learners. 

Reading at the Park 

Corrine Hegwood and Rev. Les Hegwood, during his time as an educator prior to becoming an Episcopal priest, became aware of the severity of Mississippi’s low reading comprehension while teaching. 

Before her family settled in Cleveland, Corrine Hegwood worked in many different school districts as a speech language pathologist. She noticed that in every class less than 25% of her students were reading at their grade level. 

“Many of the kids entering kindergarten in Mississippi are not ready for kindergarten,” said Corrine. “There is a significant word gap among children that don’t have access to books and that needs to be addressed.”

Rev. Les said his time as a highschool educator and Mississippi Teacher Corps Fellow really opened his eyes to educational deficits that exist in Mississippi. 

“I brought my experience with me into ministry as well. Educational equity, access to resources, and advocating for those things and creating programs that meet those needs has been part of our work for a long time,” said Les.

Inspired to make a change, Corrine and Rev. Les Hegwood, along with Margaret Katembe, from Delta State Library and Kierre Rimmer, CEO and founder of FLYZone, founded Reading at the Park (RAP) as a way of increasing literacy in their community. 

“Reading at the Park is what it sounds like. We go to different parks in Cleveland and in the Delta. We go to where the kids are, somewhere central to their community, where they can walk around, and we read,” said Rev. Les.

Reading events are completely free and include food and drinks for children to enjoy while they read or are read to. Kids can select up to three books before finding a place to read with their parents. RAP offers a wide variety of books with reading levels ranging from Pre-K to Grade 12. However, books aren’t arranged according to reading level, in order to make them more accessible to families. 

“We don’t want to assume. We’re serving a community and we want to honor that there is a diversity of abilities and that it’s accessible to all that come to engage with it,” said Rev.Les.

Since its founding, RAP has helped over 400 children and has shared nearly 1,600 books. With the help of their partners, Corrine and Rev. Les Hegwood have been able to expand their work outside of Cleveland. They have focused mainly on improving conditions in the Mississippi Delta, where access to educational materials, even in schools, is limited.

“We couldn’t be doing this without our partners. They’ve been a key component to our work and in our ability to connect to communities and expand our service area,” said Les. 

Their most recent event took place in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where they shared books with children at the Spring Initiative, a tutoring program based in the city. Looking ahead, Corrine and Rev. Les hope to teach more communities and parishes how to “RAP” and plan on hosting events next month in Rosedale, Mississippi. They continue to be inspired by the community’s support and positive response to RAP and are making plans to purchase a vehicle to replace their “Book It” golf cart in order to make longer trips around the state. 

“It’s been wonderful to see the community rally around Reading at the Park,” said Les, “There’s a lot of love for this community and hope. Reading at the Park, and other programs like it, allow people from very different backgrounds to come together around common, pure purposes. Things that we can all agree need our attention, our time, and our resources.”

Learn More

Initiatives like Reading at the Park show how impactful community engagement can be at improving outcomes for Mississippi communities. Click here to learn more about Reading at the Park and be sure to follow them on Facebook to get updates on their events. You can also show your support by sending a donation to help RAP expand their booklist. 
Have a success story of your own? Send it to us! Visit to get started.

How Oxford Diaper Bank Is Supporting Mississippi Families in Need

How Oxford Diaper Bank Is Supporting Mississippi Families in Need

Between a national formula shortage, record-breaking inflation rates, and a looming recession, new families have a lot to deal with financially. In Mississippi, where 26% of families earn less than the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), these poor economic conditions make it even harder to make ends meet.

According to the National Diaper Bank Network, Mississippi is one of fifteen states in the country that is most in need of additional diaper banks and infant care. And because there are no federal support programs that cover diaper expenses – which can reach $100 per month per child – community support is vital.

Fortunately, community initiatives like the Oxford Diaper Bank are helping new families meet their needs. The Oxford Diaper Bank was founded by the members of this year’s Leadership Lafayette as well as the North Mississippi Exchange Family Center and the Bare Needs Diaper Bank.

Since their founding in July 2022, the Oxford Diaper Bank has served nearly 10,000 diapers to families in need in Oxford-Lafayette County. They currently coordinating to host another drive and are excited to participate in future projects to support Mississippi families.

Initiatives like Oxford Diaper Bank show how impactful community engagement can be in creating healthier outcomes and improving community health. Click here to learn more about the Oxford Diaper Bank and be sure check out their Facebook page here.

Have a success story of your own? Send it to us! Visit to get started.

How Third & Spruce Is Expanding Food Access in the Mississippi Delta

How Third & Spruce Is Expanding Food Access in the Mississippi Delta

Community initiative Third & Spruce Community Garden began in order to improve the overall health and wellbeing of communities in Greenville, MS. And for good reason. 

Greenville is considered a food desert due to a lack of reliable public transportation, a lack of accessible healthy food, and other factors. This puts a great strain on surrounding communities and puts people at higher risk for chronic disease and obesity. Community gardens have been shown to help decrease food insecurity and have also been shown to improve community mental wellness and physical health. 

This is likely due to the fact that community gardens offer a brief retreat from the hustle and bustle of daily life. They also provide easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables for people and families who otherwise would be unable to get those foods.

In addition to expanding food access, Third & Spruce shares information with local residents on healthy eating, and hosts events for food drives, volunteer opportunites, and more. Their social media feed is full of wholesome content, ranging from updates on the garden, to tips on planting seasonal produce, to words of gratitude and encouragement to those who help with planting and harvesting.  

Initiatives like Third & Spruce show how impactful community engagement can be in creating healthier outcomes and improving community health. Click here to learn more about Third & Spruce Community Garden. Have a success story of your own? Send it to us! Visit to get started.

How MSU Extension Service’s AIM for CHangE Is Creating a Healthier Mississippi

How MSU Extension Service’s AIM for CHangE Is Creating a Healthier Mississippi

Mississippi has historically been among the states with the highest rates of obesity in the nation. According to the CDC, in 2015, about 1.5 million adults in Mississippi were overweight or obese. Obesity is often associated with increased risk for diabetes and cardiovascular problems and can put people at risk for developing other chronic diseases. But initiatives like Mississippi State University’s Extension Service’s AIM for CHangE intend to change that. 

AIM for CHangE (short for Advancing, Inspiring, Motivating for Community Health through Extension) is a program focused on reducing the rate of obesity in some of the state’s most affected counties. AIM uses a holistic approach to solving this health issue by increasing communities’ access to healthy foods, physical activity, and health resources. AIM works directly with communities and community organizations in order to address health disparities in a way that is sustainable and that leads to healthier community behaviors. They operate with supportive funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

One such organization is Hearty Helpings Food Pantry, a Greenville-based food bank that serves healthy meals to local residents in need. Greenville is considered a food desert due to a lack of reliable public transportation, a lack of accessible healthy food, and other factors. This puts a great strain on surrounding communities and puts people at higher risk for chronic disease and obesity

“Believe it or not, we have people walking two, three, or five miles to to get food,” said Pandora Redmond, founder of Greenville-based Hearty Helpings Food Pantry. 

Since March 2020, Hearty Helpings has served more than 12,500 healthy meals to 42,381 people in Washington County. AIM helped secure food donations for Hearty Helpings to distribute, and even helped the food pantry secure funding for a new deep freezer for food storage. 

But Greenville isn’t the only city in AIM’s service area. Communities in Falcon and Lexington, Mississippi have also benefited from AIM’s community approach to creating cultures of health. 

In Falcon, AIM, after meeting with community leaders, led a community clean up that prioritized renovating basketball courts and installing new park enhancements so that local youth could have a safe place to exercise. 

“We successfully completed between six and ten clean up days and we had Mayor Hodo and Ms. Liz and some of the youth came out and helped,” said Masey Smith, AIM’s Project Manager in an interview. “The biggest thing was to be able to install that pocket park enhancement. That was something that really brought so much joy to the community and it really brightened that area.”

In Lexington, AIM helped create the Lexington Food Pantry to serve local residents in Lexington and Holmes County after meeting with community members and identifying the need for one. Lexington Food Pantry was so successful that community members are currently working with AIM to find ways to expand the food bank’s service area in order to address food insecurity in communities across the Delta region. 

Click here to learn more about AIM’s work and community engagement. Be sure to also follow MSU Extension on social media to stay up to date on their work. Have a success story of your own? Send it to us! Visit to get started.

Keeping Belzoni Beautiful: A Community Initiative for Now and Always

Keeping Belzoni Beautiful: A Community Initiative for Now and Always

From community garden beautification to organizing litter clean-up crews, Keeping Belzoni Beautiful (KBB) is a community initiative developed to ensure local communities in Belzoni, Mississippi are safe, clean, and well-maintained.

As an affiliate of Keep Mississippi Beautiful, and subsequently Keep America Beautiful, KBB is allowed to submit a proposal for a community “Great American Clean Up,” which can range from organizing recycling efforts to leading litter clean-up crews to renovating public spaces.

On May 13, the members of Keep Belzoni Beautiful organized a local clean-up and renovation of their community garden, as part of their proposal and affiliation with Keep Mississippi Beautiful. The event involved dozens of families and community members and resulted in an updated community garden that not only included new produce, new compost bins, and butterfly gardens, but also a new walking path. Participants were treated to fresh fruit from the garden and celebrated with barbeque after the day’s work concluded.

“This community garden…will serve as a source of physical activity and will also create a beautiful atmosphere that people can just come and sit and relax their minds,” said Executive Director of Keep Belzoni Beautiful, Chandra Hines in an interview with The Delta News.

Keep Belzoni Beautiful is an inspiring initiative that other communities can start in order to keep their towns, parks, and other public areas safe and accessible.

For more information, read this Delta News article focused on the event or follow Keep Belzoni Beautiful on Facebook. You can also learn more about their community resources, objectives, and work with the Mississippi State Department of Health here. Have a success story of your own? Send it to us! Visit to get started.

Let’s Talk Baby Cafe: Supporting Mothers, Breaking Stigmas

Let’s Talk Baby Cafe: Supporting Mothers, Breaking Stigmas

Cafe photo
Affirmations decorate the halls of the community baby cafe. Photo provided by: Let’s Talk Baby Cafe

Words of encouragement and affirmation decorate the halls of Sunflower County’s community baby cafe, Let’s Talk Baby Cafe (formerly known as the Delta Baby Cafe). Located in Indianola, Let’s Talk has become an essential resource for nearly 80 mothers who frequent the cafe to comfortably practice nursing their babies and access helpful resources and information. 

Jacqueline Lambert, Support Service Manager at Delta Health Alliance (DHA) and Lead Facilitator and Founder of the Let’s Talk Baby Cafe, speaks on what inspired her to start a baby cafe in Sunflower County, and how her initiative has helped mothers in the community overcome the stigmas surrounding breastfeeding and navigate the unknowns of early motherhood. 

Creating a Safe Space 

Lambert said her idea for creating Let’s Talk Baby Cafe came from her time working with The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). She saw how effective baby cafes were in providing mothers with a safe space to breastfeed and find support for early motherhood, and was inspired to recreate that in Sunflower County. 

“While working with WIC, I heard about the baby cafe model,” Lambert said, “and I wanted to be able to reach out to moms and create a safe space for them to talk about their pregnancies, childbirth, or anything going on in their lives.” 

Not only does Let’s Talk Baby Cafe offer new mothers a chance to connect, it also provides access to lactation resources, such as latching techniques and breast pumps, through DHA’s breastfeeding support program. Working moms are given advice on how to schedule feeding, pumping, and newborn care. Let’s Talk will even work with the mother’s insurance to see if affordable options are available. 

New fathers can also receive support at Let’s Talk and are often interested in learning more about breastfeeding and postpartum in order to find new ways to support their partners.

Resources and information provided by the cafe. Photo provided by: Let’s Talk Baby Cafe

Breaking Stigmas

The World Health Organization (WHO) advises mothers to practice exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) for 6 months, and considers this to be the most effective way of giving babies the nutrients they need to develop.

In Mississippi, however, breastfeeding rates are among the lowest in the nation, especially in the Delta region of the state. In Sunflower County, only 40% of infants were breastfed within the first hour of life from 2018 to 2019, which was far lower than the national average, which sits just below 84%. 

The health benefits of breastfeeding have been well documented and extend to both mom and baby. For mothers, breastfeeding reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes and hypertension; for babies, breastfeeding decreases the likelihood of obesity, asthma, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). 

But in Mississippi, the barriers to breastfeeding are numerous, especially for Black mothers. In addition to the high-cost of supplies, such as breast pumps, and the lack of education around nursing, stigmas surrounding breastfeeding prevent many mothers from initiating. Lambert said breaking these stigmas was another motivating factor for starting Let’s Talk.

“That was another goal: to create a place for mothers to go and to see other women that look like them who are nursing,” said Lambert. “A lot of times if you don’t see nursing you don’t think it’s happening. Well, our moms were nursing, it’s just they were ashamed to tell people they were nursing, because they themselves didn’t see it.”

In addition to normalizing breastfeeding by creating a supportive environment in the cafe, Lambert says that changing how women and, to a larger extent, communities view nursing will help programs focus on what other ways mothers may need support. 

“Once we start changing how we view [breastfeeding] it changes what we can do to support it,” said Lambert.

But normalizing the practice of breastfeeding is just one stigma Lambert is working to break. Another stigma surrounds the very discussion of breastfeeding. Some new moms are too embarrassed, uncomfortable, or even ashamed to ask questions or start conversations about nursing, and this can prevent them from getting the information they need to start the latching process. 

Lambert chose “Let’s Talk” as the new name for the baby cafe, because it introduces people to the conversation and community-focused aspects of the cafe right from the start. 

“I decided to go with the name ‘Let’s Talk’ because that’s what I wanted it to be–conversation,” said Lambert. “I wanted people to feel welcomed and not threatened or think that they couldn’t participate if they weren’t breastfeeding. No, let’s talk. Let’s talk about breastfeeding, let’s talk about newborn care, let’s just talk. And when people see these discussions as a conversation and not a presentation, they’re able to open up more.” 

Seeing a Change

Whether in-person or online, Let’s Talk provides opportunities for mothers to access the tools they need to support their nursing. 

During the pandemic, Let’s Talk hosted virtual programs for mothers to ask questions and learn more about nursing. These programs were especially helpful to mothers who had transportation issues or underlying health concerns. Lambert says the cafe’s work during that time, as well as its continued work in the community is truly making a difference. 

Let’s Talk hosted virtual baby cafes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to support mothers who were unable to attend in-person events. Photo provided by: Let’s Talk Baby Cafe.

“I have seen a change. I’ve noticed that we’ve become a resource in the community. People don’t mind sharing or letting their families know that there is a baby cafe available to help them with their breastfeeding concerns,” Lambert said. 

For more information, visit and follow Let’s Talk on Facebook. Have a success story of your own? Send it to us! Visit to get started.

On the SHA and SHIP: An Interview with Kaye Bender

On the SHA and SHIP: An Interview with Kaye Bender

Kaye Bender, Executive Director of the Mississippi Public Health Association (MPHA) speaks on the development of the State Health Assessment (SHA) and the State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) and suggests what you can do to help improve the health of our state and local communities. 

Although similar in name, the SHA and the SHIP have very different functions when it comes to improving our state’s health.

“Think of it in phases,” Bender said. “The State Health Assessment would be phase one, consisting of collecting data. The State Health Improvement Plan would then be phase two putting that data into action.”

The SHA not only collects data, but also presents that data in a way that is comprehensive and relatable. What kind of data does the SHA collect? Factors contributing to health issues, rates of obesity and chronic diseases in the state, and causes of death or hospitalization are all data findings presented in the assessment.

Additionally, the SHA lists ways communities can optimize their health assets, overcome social or economic barriers, and outlines potential system, capacity, and social issues that may inhibit healthcare access or quality. This data is based on listening sessions that are held across the state when a new SHA is being developed. 

These listening sessions provided the public with an opportunity to express both the assets and barriers that are affecting their communities as well as what health issues they feel need to be prioritized. The SHA is updated to reflect the needs of the public, therefore ensuring that community needs are represented and addressed. 

After the SHA is developed, through a collaborative effort between UProot partners and The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH), The State Health Assessment Improvement Committee (SHAIC) convenes to review the data and develop work plans for the SHIP. The SHAIC is composed of over a hundred representatives from a range of organizations, businesses, and state health departments that are interested in improving the state’s health. 

“They’re an awesome group,” Bender said about the SHAIC, “I have been so impressed with the commitment of this group to have these conversations.”

The work plans act as benchmarks for the SHAIC to measure overall progress toward improving the state’s health and addressing the root causes of certain disparities and health conditions over the next three to five years.

“The State Health Improvement Plan moves beyond the assessment of the State Health Assessment,” Bender said, “and asks ‘what are we going to do about our issues?’”

Once the work plans have been developed, they are shared with the public. Feedback is collected from a 15 minute survey that is designed for anyone to review and comment on the developed work plans. The feedback period has passed for the latest work plans, but if you’re interested in improving our state’s health, you can do so by staying informed and inspiring healthy activities and engagement in your community

“Anybody–members of the public or organizations that may not yet be part of SHAIC, can look at the work plans and offer feedback,” Bender said. “Feedback helps us further refine the work plans. So it’s very important for us to get feedback to know if our work plans are feasible. It can also inspire people to learn more, or to become further engaged with improving our state’s health.”

After the feedback period, the SHAIC convenes and reviews the feedback provided. The work plans are not considered final until they have been adjusted according to the feedback provided. Community-level feedback is vital to ensuring that the SHIP work plans are addressing the needs of all Mississippi residents.

“Community level input is very important,” Bender said, “because what works on the Mississippi Gulf Coast may not work in the Delta.”

Bender had this to say to anyone interested in improving our state’s health: 

“Comment. Look at the information and comment. Provide feedback on the work plans and let us know how you’d like to be involved in the work. The UProot website offers many ways for people to get in touch with us. Also, keep at it. Whatever work you’re doing in your community, keep it up. Don’t forget to send us what community activities you’re doing to improve our state’s health.” 

Ready to get involved in improving our state’s health? Visit our Contact page to send us an email or share what your community is doing to create cultures of health.

Jackson State University is meeting the needs of the community one food box at a time

Jackson State University is meeting the needs of the community one food box at a time

On Saturday, April 17, 2021, Members of the Jackson-Hinds community drive-by the Blackburn Middle School parking lot to receive a bag of non-perishable items donated by multiple organizations. A total of 1500 food bags were given away, all donated by TDC Premier Trucking LLC, an affiliate of Amazon and HOSEA.

Major institutions within Mississippi communities have a role to play in helping to create our culture of health, and Jackson State University is working to meet the needs of the community one food box at a time. 

The Office of Community Engagement is the liaison between Jackson State University and the surrounding community. Their work focuses on meeting community needs, ranging from assistance with information dissemination to a community garden. 

Meeting the Needs of the Community

Over the past five years, Jackson State University has been developing strategies to help with access to fresh produce and fresh food for metro Jackson residents.

They started the JSU Blackburn Learning Garden five years ago, and, along with Blackburn Middle School students, have since grown a variety of vegetables that are distributed to the community for free. 

With the help of their partners, JSU also hosts a Crop Drop a few times a year, where they hand out 50,000 lbs of produce grown from farmers across the state. They serve between 500 to 1,000 people. 

“We’ve seen many residents come to us looking for fresh produce, so we do these events to try to offset some of their grocery bills. Given the pandemic and the water crisis that’s been happening in our city, there has been a lot more need. With students learning virtually, and parents being at home and having to provide 3 meals a day plus snacks, it’s really been a strain on our community,” said Heather Denné, Director of Community Engagement of the Center for University-Based Development at Jackson State University.

Last year, they tripled the amount of food box giveaways and Crop Drop events. In April, they were able to give out a whole semi-truck full of produce and non-perishable items, helping over 1,500 people. The giveaway was supported by the TDC Premier Trucking, LLC, HOSEA, Amazon, Society of St. Andrew, Continental Tires and the People’s Advocacy Institute.

At April’s food distribution, JSU also handed out children’s books. JSU partnered with the Little Free Library organization and built 5 libraries throughout West Jackson. However, since the start of the pandemic, the libraries have been harder to access, so they decided to give books away at the Crop Drop. 

Creating a culture of health for Jackson families

“We’re always thinking about sustainability and making sure that these things make an impact long term. Specifically with our garden project, we are teaching our folks about how to grow their own produce,” said Denné. 

After the produce is grown, JSU works to engage the entire family with interactive projects that focus on healthy eating. They hold a student-led farmer’s market, as well as an annual greens cookoff. 

“We want to teach families about healthier ways they can sustain their family if they don’t have access to a grocery store that readily sells fresh produce and vegetables,” said Denné.


With events like the Crop Drop and their Learning Garden, Jackson State University hopes to teach the local community about healthy eating. Teaching children and families about growing your own produce is a lifelong skill that will lead to healthy eating! 

For any organization that hosts services, it’s important to ask the question: how can our organization teach the recipients the thinking behind these services that we offer, so they can learn to do it on their own for years to come?
Jackson State University is planning on hosting another distribution event in October. Stay tuned on their social media and website for more information.

Brain Injury Association of Mississippi is providing support & spreading awareness

Brain Injury Association of Mississippi is providing support & spreading awareness

The Brain Injury Association (BIA) of Mississippi provides information, support, and resources to people with brain and spinal cord injuries, as well as their families, while also teaching the general public about injury prevention programs.

Mississippi is 3rd in the country in the number of brain injuries reported each year. Brain injuries are primarily caused by falls and motor vehicle accidents. Now, in its 30th year of service, the BIA of Mississippi is the only nonprofit in our state specifically assisting traumatic brain and/or spinal cord injury survivors, both civilian and military, and their families. 

Online Support Groups

One of the main services that the BIA of Mississippi provides is support for people living with a brain injury. Before COVID, they had three different support groups around the state, but when everything closed down, they immediately switched to virtual support programs.

“We combined our three support groups into one big virtual support group. We’ve reached people that are in areas in the state that probably would never have gone to an in-person meeting, just because they’re out in a rural area or they’re too far away. We have 92 people in our virtual support groups,” said Lee Moss, Executive Director of BIA of Mississippi.

During the support group meetings, the BIA of Mississippi also provides other virtual opportunities for enrichment, like yoga, cooking nights, and meditation sessions.

“We do these activities because these are things that some of the members have never done before, and, with meditation in particular, it’s really helped them learn how to better be calm while being isolated,” said Moss.

Garnering Support with Fundraising Events

The BIA of Mississippi has three annual fundraising events.

Dash ‘N Splash is a race held every June, with walk, run, and wheelchair categories. The race ends by the Reservoir in Ridgeland with activities like water slides and balloons, and snacks like watermelon. This year, the BIA of Mississippi plans for an in-person race on June 26, 2021.

The “Salute to Our Heroes” Virtual Drawdown typically consists of an in-person drawdown and gala, but last year they switched to a virtual event due to COVID-19. The event had such a good virtual turnout that they decided to keep it online again this year.

The NogginFeast: A Celebration for the Brain is one of the Brain Injury Association of Mississippi’s most popular fundraiser events, held at the Renaissance in Madison. In its third year, NogginFeast consists of  20-30 local food and liquor vendors and live entertainment. This year’s NogginFeast will take place on October 25, 2021, and tickets can be purchased at the door. Brain injury survivors and their families can attend the event at no cost.

Sharing Information and Resources During Brain Injury Awareness Month

Normally, BIA of Mississippi celebrates Brain Injury Awareness Day on March 11 every year at the Capital, but this year they commemorated the day virtually. Throughout the day, they used Facebook to share videos in which brain injury survivors told their stories.

Throughout the month of March, BIA of Mississippi shared resources and statistics about brain injury awareness and prevention on their social media.

“We had to come up with something since we couldn’t be in-person, and, honestly, I feel like we reached more people this way than we would have at the Capital. We wanted to help people learn everything they need to know about brain injury through a virtual platform. In the process, we’ve even found some new survivors that needed help, and they previously didn’t know about us,” said Moss.


Over the last year, the ability to hold virtual events became more important than ever. BIA of Mississippi is a great example of how to move forward with events: integrate virtual events with in-person ones, even when people are more free to gather. The ability to learn new virtual ways to reach people regardless of their location in Mississippi is something that all organizations should carry forward.

Know the facts about brain injury.

“A lot of brain injury survivors look fine on the outside. Traumatic brain injury contributes to 40% of mental illness. That’s a big deal. People who sustain a concussion may not even have any symptoms at the time of the accident as well, like with NFL players and people in the military, but over time it can lead to issues like depression, PTSD, addiction, and more,” said Moss.

BIA of Mississippi hopes to educate people throughout our state about brain injury. One of the biggest challenges the association faces in regard to brain injury in Mississippi is a lack of funding; Moss hopes that the more the public and legislators know about brain injury, the more resources will be available. 
To learn more about BIA of Mississippi or to donate, visit their website.

Move To Learn: boosting focus in the classroom through movement

Move To Learn: boosting focus in the classroom through movement

Every weekday morning at 9:00 am, Coach Larry Calhoun logs onto Facebook Live for a Brain Break. He begins with an educational hook, oftentimes using a fun prop, to get the children’s attention. After thanking parents, teachers, and students for joining, he’ll walk the audience through multiple “I am” affirmations: “I am strong. I am smart. I am loved. I am one of a kind.”

Next, he’ll launch into a brain break, coaching students through a five-minute dance to boost energy. At the end of the video, Coach Calhoun brings the students back down, so when they go back to their activity or work, they are calmer and ready to focus. 

Coach Calhoun is the face of Move To Learn, a project of The Bower Foundation, a private nonprofit working to improve Mississippi’s health, and the Mississippi Department of Education

“The health of Mississippi’s children is critically important. A great way to reach children is in the classroom, because pre-COVID, about half a million children were in a classroom setting per day. When we look at Mississippi’s trends for children who are overweight, it’s alarming. It inspired us to think about how to partner with the Mississippi Department of Education to align with the notion that if our bodies are healthier our brains function better,” said Anne Travis, CEO of The Bower Foundation.

The Bower Foundation’s work with the Mississippi Department of Education focuses on the alignment between health and the ability to engage in educational activities, and a lot of their work centered on children’s nutrition. They replaced deep fat fryers in school cafeterias with combination oven steamers and improved the farm to school initiative in the state, getting more fruits and vegetables in schools. In 2012, the Bower Foundation started Move To Learn.  

Move To Learn offers fun and easy ways to get students back on task. Before COVID-19, Coach Calhoun and Move To Learn visited 527 schools and reached 234,761 children across the state, presenting in front of audiences of up to 800 students. 

The science behind movement

When kids get to move at school, schools get better. Not only does student health improve, but academic performance improves, too. In several studies of Mississippi students done by the University of Southern Mississippi, more fitness was associated with better behavior and less absenteeism.

“Move To Learn helps boys and girls dissipate some of that energy they have just from being children. When I was a little boy, I had issues with sitting in a seat. I was fortunate as a kid because I had a couple of teachers who had movement throughout the day. Those teachers that allowed movement, I don’t remember having any behavioral challenges in their class. I do remember having challenges in the classes where I had to sit still for 5-6 hours a day,” said Coach Calhoun.

The study completed by the University of Southern Mississippi and The Bower Foundation showed the correlation between Move To Learn and students’ Time-On-Task. They found that children who got to Move To Learn ended up with more Time-On-Task, meaning the children were calmer or settled, more attentive, and more alert in the classroom. 

“We want to create simple ways to help make teacher’s jobs easier, whether that’s meeting state standards or making their children be inspired and feel better,” said Travis. 

Making Move To Learn accessible during COVID-19

When schools switched to virtual learning at the start of COVID-19 last March, Move To Learn began doing Facebook live videos every weekday at 9:00 am. They also offer a wide array of videos on their YouTube channel for grades K-12, all lasting five minutes. 

Move To Learn also began hosting Virtual Brain Break Lives, where teachers would book an appointment to have Coach Calhoun visit their classrooms for 15 minutes through Zoom. During the Virtual Brain Break Lives, Coach Calhoun interacts with the class, leading the students through a short presentation and getting them moving. 

The videos are also available on MPB Classroom TV, making Move To Learn more accessible from home. MPB Classroom TV also puts Move To Learn videos between instruction time, similar to how the videos are utilized in a classroom setting to increase focus on learning. 

Move To learn plans on bringing back in-person visits to schools once it can be done in a safe and healthy environment. 

“There’s nothing like Coach in-person with a big group of kids,” said Scott Clements, State Director of the Office of Child Nutrition and Healthy Schools. “Larry pumps the kids up for 40 minutes and then at the end guides them through focus time. He brings them down, and when they leave, it is quiet and orderly. I can not tell you the number of times teachers have said how surprised they were that students can go from that high to that calm, and they can bring kids back to class and those kids are not bouncing off the walls anymore. We love the live shows, and that’s a goal of ours to get back to that when it’s safe and healthy.”

Making it easy for teachers to get 150 minutes of movement for their students

“We don’t want kids to only be in the classroom, only in the chair. We want kids to be healthy bodies and have healthy minds. Not only does Move To Learn help reach that goal of 150 minutes, but these videos are also in short enough periods where teachers can work them in over the course of a day. They get their activity, and they focus better too,” said Clements.

The Mississippi State Board and the legislator realized that kids need to have physical activity, resulting in the Mississippi Health Students Act, a recommendation that students must get 150 minutes of movement per week. Move To Learn is a tool that teachers can use at their discretion; it’s quick and easy, only 5 minutes of time. 

“When you extrapolate hundreds of thousands of video views to classrooms of 20 children to 5 minutes, you’re talking about billions of minutes for physical activity that presumably didn’t exist before Move To Learn. Larry will also stress the importance of nutrition and things to go along with a more holistic view of health and not just physical activity. This can be an easy component to creating a better environment in the classroom,” said Clements. 

Creating a culture of health for Mississippi’s children

Move To Learn is a resource that inspires children to be fit, healthy, and active. What are some of the takeaways of Move To Learn?

“What we’ve done pre- and during COVID is try to create a moment of fun and happiness and joy, and a little tiny bit of predictability, that might make a child or teacher feel better. What’s the ripple effect of that? If children feel cared for and loved, they’re going to be excited and engaged learners,” said Travis. 

Move To Learn videos are available for free for educators and students. Visit their website or subscribe to their YouTube for more information and videos.