Do Good: Catherine's Health Center's Indoor Walking Program ramps up for its 12th year

Full disclosure: I hate exercising. I hate it on a good day, so imagine how I feel when the weather is crummy. Millions of other people feel the same way, of course. But there is no comfort in numbers when even walking can be risky – navigating sidewalks full of snow and ice during the winter can be downright dangerous. It’s no wonder people pack on the pounds during the cold months.
Catherine's Health Center, a nonprofit health clinic in northeast Grand Rapids, is teaming up with Grand Rapids Community College's Nursing program and Kent Hills Elementary to roll out its indoor walking program for the 12th year. Do Good editor Victoria Mullen delves into the issue of access to fitness facilities and healthcare -- and finds out where and when you can walk for free.
So, if you can’t afford a gym membership and don’t participate in winter sports, consider walking indoors. For the 12th year, Catherine's Health Center (CHC), a nonprofit health clinic at 1211 Lafayette Ave. NE in Grand Rapids, will be partnering with Grand Rapids Community College's (GRCC) Nursing Program and Kent Hills Elementary to ramp up its indoor walking program.

“We look forward to seeing everyone again,” says Nan Evans, principal at Kent Hills Elementary. “A few of the walkers help me out with a mobile food pantry once a month. They’re great people.”

The Indoor Walking Program begins September 15 and ends April 23. It’s free and offers participants an opportunity to receive health screenings, get vitals checked, and make new friends on most Mondays and Thursdays during the cooler months. The walks will take place from 5-7pm at Kent Hills Elementary School, 1445 Emerald NE. (The walking program will not be open on November 3, November 27, December 22, December 25, December 29, January 1, January 19, February 16, April 6, and April 9. It will also be closed on snow days.)

“All ages and all income levels are welcome to participate and enjoy a safe place to walk every Monday and Thursday,” says Nic Scobey, an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) worker, who is spending a year working in the trenches at CHC.

There are a lot of great things going on at CHC besides the walking program, and Scobey is experiencing them firsthand. He joined AmeriCorps VISTA on a whim and began working at CHC in July. “A neighbor told me about VISTA,” Scobey says. “I was graduating from college and needed to find a job. I had volunteered at Catherine’s Health Center in the past and understood their mission.”

At 22 years of age, Scobey is still insured under his parents’ policy. He says that working at CHC has been an eye-opener.

“It’s like a poverty immersion program,” he says of the one-year commitment. “We aren’t allowed to work other jobs. I get a $12,500 a year stipend and live in a low-income apartment. To save money, I got rid of my car, and I live close enough to walk to work. I also carpool and am learning to navigate the bus system.”

Sobey says that he has a newfound appreciation for the continued efforts at the federal and state levels to increase access to health care.

“I see both sides of the situation – the insurance side and from the patient’s perspective,” says Scobey. “Poverty is more widespread than people realize. For example, a guy with a PhD that lives at 250% poverty level (i.e., $28,000) utilizes the services at CHC. [VISTA] really sheds light on how stressful poverty can be. It helps me empathize with people in less fortunate circumstances.”

Scobey hasn’t nailed down his vocation of choice, but working for AmeriCorps VISTA is helping him to narrow down the possibilities. He’s been accepted into medical school, but he’s not sure he wants to pursue that route. Right now, all he knows is that he wants to work in the healthcare field in some capacity. His position at CHC is helping him make connections that may prove valuable when he’s out in the business or nonprofit world. Many AmeriCorps VISTA alums continue volunteering even when program ends. Scobey anticipates doing the same.

CHC is a nonprofit, community-based health facility dedicated to serving low-income, uninsured residents of the northeast sections of Grand Rapids, Michigan, primarily those who live in the Creston and Belknap neighborhoods. CHC is a member of the National Association of Free Clinics and of Free Clinics of Michigan. The center has provided treatment, screening, and health education to the uninsured and underserved since 1996.

AmeriCorps VISTA is offered by a federal agency, The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Since 1993, CNCS has engaged more than 5 million Americans in service through its core programs, AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and the Social Innovation Fund.

Each year, the AmeriCorps VISTA program sees more than 8,000 Americans contributing their talents, skills, and passion to help communities overcome poverty. Participants commit full-time for a year at local government agencies and nonprofit organizations to help carry out programs that tackle poverty. VISTA supports programs that improve health services, reduce homelessness, improve literacy, develop financial assets, and expand job opportunities. Programs that expand access to technology for those living in rural and urban areas of poverty across America, increase housing opportunities, and improve economic opportunities for low-income veterans and military families are also supported.

Any public agency, nonprofit organization, educational institution, or tribal agency with a project specifically designed to alleviate poverty may sponsor a VISTA.

Get involved:

- Get moving. Call Nic for more information about CHC’s Walking Program: 616.336.8800.
- Donate to Catherine’s Health Center.
- Volunteer.
- Become a community volunteer through AmeriCorps VISTA. Apply for a position here.  

Victoria Mullen is the Do Good editor for Rapid Growth Media.

Images by Adam Bird.
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