Issue 24 • May 2014Local Inspiration

How One Woman Uses Her Story, Her Voice and Her Health

Moms are good story tellers. They stitch narratives in the fabric of our lives starting with a sharp-toothed, hairy grandmother, a red cape and maybe even a burning bush. Melinda Henry is a mom who understands the power of a story that bubbles with trouble. For her, stories are brilliant teaching tools – they stick, they mesmerize. Melinda’s used her story to inspire her own children to fitness and retells it today, making waves in North Jacksonville neighborhoods.
For Melinda, fitness became a quality of life issue when her athlete daughters didn’t receive the same attention male athletes did in high school sports. Not progressing was not an option. She took matters into her own hands, signed up for a gym membership and started training with her daughters. Seeking out workout knowledge not only led her daughters to success in competitive sports but led Melinda to a new career.

Melinda left a family business to pursue a job in exercise physiology. She started a gym in North Jacksonville targeting neighbors who needed more than personal training but an education to make significant lifestyle changes. While the gym no longer has a Northside address, Melinda’s message is now mobile. Through her nonprofit DEEN (Diabetes – Health Disparities, Education, Exercise and Nutrition), she conducts 6 week programs in churches, schools and neighborhoods in Jacksonville’s North quadrant to teach fitness, eating right and diabetes prevention. “People’s health has been hijacked,” Melinda says. “We have to take people by the hand and get back to basics.”

The take-away from Melinda’s story and DEEN’s mission – HEALTH IS SIMPLE. Simplicity of design and ease of use sound like a tag line for a tech product, but Melinda links the idea with health. The advantage of simplicity – it helps people understand health as a blank canvas for their life. If you only have Sav-a-Lot nearby, buy a 4lb bag of apples for $2.99 instead of potato chips; if you don’t have a car, think about your walk to work, not as a hardship, but a fitness opportunity.

What role does motherhood play in Melinda’s story? A very important one given how mother and child’s physiologies intertwine. Together an active mother and child’s precocious development linger into later lives. Melinda’s children, like the countless community members she’s educated, focus on the true value of her talk and spread the word. It is now their stories that inspire Melinda to keep providing straightforward health solutions for people who are timid and lack resources.

Motherly Advice for Getting Past Restrictions that Lead to a Sedentary Life

  • Curl a can of beans. Stuck inside and stuck in a rut is not an excuse for inactivity. A life-changing moment for Melinda was when she started curling a can of beans in her kitchen instead of a dumbbell at the gym. We shape our environment by how we make use of what’s already in that environment.
  • Being active and eating right should be simple even when parenting is not. Make it a mantra with your kids. Sprinkle health and fitness ideas on sliced apples, braid it into their pigtails and dance to it in the living room on Friday nights.
  • Commercial workout. When you watch TV, make commercial segments mandatory exercise time. Melinda made her son do pushups and situps during commercials. While he hated it at the moment, it made a lasting impression – his professional football career is proof of this.

To find out more about Melinda’s work with DEEN, visit the website or call (904)765-6002.

JoHanna Bienvenue

JoHanna Bienvenue

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