NCNW Health & Wellness front and center at YMCA

By Allen A. Buchanan

St. Petersburg – The National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) St. Petersburg Metropolitan Section hosted their annual Health and Wellness Expo earlier this month at the Childs Park YMCA.


Featuring service organizations such as All Children’s Hospital Healthy Start Program, the University of Florida’s Nutrition Extension Program, Alzheimer’s Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Sickle Cell Association of St. Petersburg, Healthy St. Pete, Neighborly Care Network and the Kidney Support Group, the room was full of information on how to live a healthier life.

Beverly Campbell, committee chair for NCNW, welcomed all organization representatives who gave an overview about the health and wellness services that they each provide.

“Planning for this event started in late September to get together a variety of organizations that could represent various aspects of health and wellness,” said Campbell.

211 Tampa Bay Cares was on hand to let people know that they connect individuals, families and employees to information about critical health and human services available in their community for every day needs and in times of crisis. The service is free and all you have to do is dial 2-1-1.

They have a new program that just opened up called Help Me Grow. This is a service that provides families with children zero to eight years old with behavioral health and mental health educational services.

Neighborly Care Network has been providing health and wellness programs to seniors and their families for a half century, and Community Outreach Specialist Tommy Williams is trying to get the word about.

“We’ve been in the community helping senior citizens get different services; a hot meal, transportation to doctors’ offices, physical therapists and group dining where seniors can go sit and socialize with other seniors and enjoy the exercise and activities that is going on,” he said.

Melvin R. Smith, outreach coordinator for the Sickle Cell Association of St. Petersburg, spoke with visitors about the crippling disease that impacts the health of predominately African Americans.

In a slide presentation that expanded on the heredity characteristics of the sickle cell trait, it explained that the disease is an abnormality in the oxygen-carrying protein hemoglobin found in red blood cells. This leads to a rigid, sickle-like shape under certain circumstances.

“It causes pain, stroke, and an increase in infection because the red blood cells are less, bone damage- the list goes on and on,” he explained.

Sickle cell also causes jaundice, gallstones, hand/foot syndrome, anemia, delayed growth, eye damage, kidney failure and acute chest syndrome.

Whether it’s sickle cell, body mass index, or blood pressure health concerns, the first medical professional that patients will interact with will be a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse. Both types of nurses are in high demand, especially nurses of color.

“It has been hard even though students may know about us,” said Janie Johnson, president of the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA), Inc. of St. Petersburg. The organization was established in 1989 and received its charter in 1991. Since that time, it has played an instrumental role in health and wellness events in the Tampa Bay area, and even offers scholarships to students who can apply through their high schools.

“Every year we have scholarship banquets for young African Americans to become a part of the nursing profession,” said Fannie Vaughn, a board member of the NBNA.

Vaughn said the current generation of high school graduates are tech savvy, but they need to work on improving vital thinking skill that are required in high end medical professions such as nursing.

“Critical thinking and being able to prioritize and to assess properly in the giving of patient care would be the main thing,” said Vaughn. She went on to say that the organization really wants young people to consider nursing as a future and pick up scholarship applications that are available at area high schools.

Cyrenna Duncan of the Alzheimer’s Foundation and Janice Starling-Williams were also on hand to talk with visitors about kidney health. Starling-Williams, founder of All Kidney Patients Support Group, gave a presentation about diabetes and kidney disease. Williams placed a special emphasis on the need for more African Americans to become organ donors.

Jacqueline Wilson, a board member of NCNW, sat in for Stacy Freskos who is the Education/Support Specialist for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). She strongly empathizes with NAMI’s mission because she as an educator in Pinellas County has come across students struggling with one or more mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and depression.

Another familiar highlight of the event was the “Wellness Board Game.” When visitors entered the expo, each of them received a card with squares that contained the names of participating vendors. As the participants visited each table, they “X” off each name until they had visited each vendor. Then, they entered their card into the drawing for prizes that were given away.

For more information NCNW, you can check out their website at

To reach Allen Buchanan, email

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