PHOTOGRAPHS BY RAFAEL TONGOL
Mary Wooley, a jovial 80-year-old wearing a Christmas-red jacket, sits at the end of a long table at Day Break in Winter Park, where the chatter darts randomly from the quality of the snacks to the star power of Roy Rogers and his horse, Trigger.
Day Break offers a chance for older people with memory impairment to socialize, exercise, play games, eat lunch and create works of art while still getting their medications.
Some clients are stoic. But Wooley, a former cafeteria worker who now lives with her son, works hard to stay as sharp as possible. She knits, crochets and neatly embellishes the drawings in adult coloring books. She boasts that on her 80th birthday, her son taught her how to text.
Two days a week, she visits Day Break. The lunch is OK here, she says, and she loves to stroll in the Sensory Garden. But it’s cutting up with others that she enjoys the most.
“We talk and laugh — we’re forever laughing,” she says. “We have fun.”
Day Break is run by Easter Seals, but its building, the Miller Center for Older Adult Services, is made available for $1 a year by the Winter Park Health Foundation, whose headquarters is next door.
The low-key arrangement is typical of the foundation, which tends to operate in the background, conducting research related to health and wellness issues that impact its service area, which encompasses Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville.
It also provides money and facilities for groups that deliver services. Contributions run the gamut, from $500 for a healthy-snacks cabinet at the Winter Park Community Center to $570,000 for mental-health counseling in schools.
In 2014, the foundation estimates, its impact on the community — including facilities, grants and direct donations — totaled $7.6 million.
“We want to be a partner with the community and other organizations rather than shine a spotlight on ourselves,” says Patricia Maddox, longtime president and CEO of the foundation, which has a staff of just 11. “People clearly view us as more of a collaborator.”
But ducking the spotlight will be harder to do as the foundation embarks on the most visible endeavor in its 22-year history: a major wellness center adjacent to Winter Park Memorial Hospital, near Aloma and Lakemont avenues.
The multiuse complex will be built on the site of the cur-rent Peggy and Philip B. Crosby YMCA Wellness Center — which pays the foundation 50 cents a year in rent — and three adjacent parcels.
In partnership with the hospital, the foundation plans an 85,000-square-foot building, a portion of which will house the Crosby Y, and a parking garage. The existing 25-year-old building will be razed later this year, and the confusing streets around the site will be untangled.
The Crosby Y will gain more space for workouts and classes. A second pool will be dedicated to exercise and warm-water therapy, while a demonstration kitchen will help participants make more healthful meals.
In the deliberate, data-driven style that characterizes everything it does, the foundation looked at wellness centers across the country and took the best elements of each in planning the $45 million project.
Maddox says the emphasis of what’s known for now as Project Wellness will be helping the community deal with the “silver tsunami” — the aging of America — while preparing younger people to stay healthier as they grow older.
Diana Silvey, the foundation’s program director for older adult services, envisions a place where you might consult a physician in the center’s clinical area and be told you need more fiber in your diet.
Then, at the same place, you can learn to make healthier meals and sign up to exercise at the Crosby Y while you’re at it. “My hope for it is real integration,” Silvey says.
The building is scheduled to open in the fall of 2018. When that happens, says foundation Vice President Debbie Watson, Winter Park will have a major wellness destination that will include the Crosby Y, the Miller Center and the foundation’s offices. It’ll be next to 66-acre Ward Park, which is owned by the city.
While construction is underway, the 1,900 members of the seniors-oriented Crosby Y will have to go elsewhere to work out and see their buddies.
Mary Cox, the Crosby Y’s associate executive director of wellness, says members can use other Y’s in the area, adding that the Y will work with the foundation to rent space in churches and other venues. “Everything is on the table,” she says.
Half of the Crosby Y’s members are 71 or older, Cox says, and one 96-year-old member told her the change had a bright side: “I have a reason to live for two more years.”
Asked to look ahead 20 years, Maddox says she hopes Project Wellness “will be an integral part of the community, viewed as a destination in Winter Park. In the future, when people are showing visitors Winter Park landmarks, [the new facility] will be one of them.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Good intentions and thorough research have helped the foundation become the leading champion of wellness in the Winter Park area. But luck and timing have played roles, too.
In 1994, the 300-bed Winter Park Memorial Hospital was finding it tough to compete in the managed-care environment of the time. So the governing Winter Park Memorial Hospital Association Inc. sold controlling interest to Columbia/HCA, the company then run by Rick Scott, now governor of Florida. The association began doing business as the Winter Park Health Foundation.
In that transaction, the foundation got properties such as the Miller Center and Crosby Y buildings and added cash to its endowment. Then, in 2000, the foundation sold its remain-ing interest in Winter Park Memorial, which Columbia/HCA promptly sold in its entirety to Florida Hospital.
The foundation’s assets grew from about $88 million at its inception in 1994 to about $128 million at the end of 2014, Watson says. During that period, by its own calculations, the foundation’s financial impact exceeded $93 million.
Although it once covered a broader area that included Oviedo, the foundation now concentrates on Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville, with a mission of preventing disease and creating an environment conducive to good health.
It focuses on children, older adults and overall community health, mainly by making grants to groups it believes can make a difference.
But its philosophy is not to throw money at grant recipients for a year and walk away, Watson says. “We tend to fund longer and stick with it. We work with them on sustainability, to help them stand on their own.”
Winter Park and Maitland may seem unlikely targets for such philanthropy, but the foundation’s frequent assessments have found that from a health standpoint, the two relatively affluent cities face the same challenges that most other places do.
“The simplistic answer is that affluence and prosperity does not equal good health,” says Maddox, who recently was named the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year for her foundation work, including the development of Project Wellness.
Health sins such as overeating, failing to get enough exercise and avoiding recommended screenings tend to be similar from one place to the next, she says.
A 2014 assessment conducted for Healthy Central Florida — a partnership between the foundation and Florida Hospital — found that more than half of the three cities’ adult residents were considered overweight, and 14.2 percent rated their own health as fair or poor. That compares with 15.3 percent nationwide.
CARE FOR KIDS
In its early days, the foundation learned that kids here needed help just as much as kids living anywhere else.
More families than expected in the Winter Park area were living in poverty. One of every five children was suffering from depression, and rates of smoking among teens were troublingly high.
“Counselors said, ‘These kids are smoking because they have really big issues, and this is their coping mechanism,’” says Watson.
Those findings led to the Coordinated Youth Initiative, an effort to improve the mental and physical health of children in 12 schools that serve Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville. The foundation now spends more than $1 million a year on health in schools.
Its School Nursing Initiative helps provide a full-time nurse at each of the schools — an asset not available at every Orange County school. In addition, nurse practitioners stationed at Glenridge Middle School and Winter Park High School conduct physical exams, write prescriptions and treat common ailments without charge for students at all 12 schools.
Their focus is on kids who don’t have a regular source of care or who face other barriers in getting medical help. Healthy School Teams made up of faculty, parents and other residents come up with ways to improve student health.
During the 2014-15 school year, nurses handled almost 40,000 visits, says Pam Flaherty, a nurse practitioner who coordinates the School Nursing Initiative. “If we can’t give them everything they need, we know where to find it,” she adds.
Because they have the knowledge to make accurate assessments, nurses send about 95 percent of kids back to class after a clinic visit, compared with 80 to 85 percent who are seen by unlicensed attendants, Flaherty says.
But the foundation’s CHILL program may be its most innovative way of safeguarding kids’ health. Licensed mental-health counselors for CHILL (Community Health and Intervention in Life’s Lessons) offer up to 12 individual or group sessions to kids struggling with problems such as depression, anxiety, bullying and anger management.
“There once was a perception that children in Winter Park didn’t have some of these issues,” says Joie Cadle, an Orange County School Board member who lives in Winter Park.
But the reality is that pressures on teens have never been greater, Cadle adds, and the economic downturn showed how quickly a youngster who had been in a seemingly secure situation could wind up impoverished or homeless because of layoffs and foreclosures.
“CHILL counselors are able to help children of divorce, those who are grieving, smoking and have risky behaviors,” Cadle says. “That mental-health component is huge.”
At the other end of the age spectrum, the foundation is trying to keep older adults living independently longer — and to keep them learning so they can maintain cognitive abilities.
One grant, for example, led to the creation of Neighbors Network, whose members pay a fee to get help with basic household tasks — including decorating during the holidays or changing light bulbs — instead of climbing ladders and risking broken bones.
Cyber Seniors pairs older people who want to become computer-literate with young volunteers who provide one-on-one instruction on how to use smartphones, tablets and laptops. The goal is sim-ple, Silvey says: Help seniors stay connected.
And the foundation spent about $160,000 to launch a program offering courses for adults 50 and over through Rollins College’s Center for Lifelong Learning.
Classes, which meet in Winter Park and beyond, are capped at 35 students and are taught by local experts. Demand has exceeded expectations since the program began in 2013, says Jill Norburn, the center’s director.
In 2015, nearly 1,100 people took at least one class, Norburn adds. This spring, the center will offer 128 classes, which typically meet for 90 minutes a week over four weeks.
Among the most popular topics: “Nazi Germany,” “Using Meditation in Everyday Life” and “The Sistine Chapel Up, Down and Sideways.” Tuition is $65 per class.
“For many, these classes have pulled them away from depression and isolation,” Norburn says. “They’re meeting new people, learning new things and also finding ways to get involved in the community through our different volunteer outlets.”
Not everything the foundation supports is aimed at a particular age group, however. Its Healthy Central Florida partnership with Florida Hospital promotes broader wellness ideals such as walking and biking, healthful eating and smoke-free spaces.
The partnership has organized walking and biking events and funded a mobile farmer’s mar-ket, for example.
It also works at the policy level to push for improvements such as bike lanes and sidewalks that make it safe to be more active, says Jill Hamilton Buss, the partnership’s execu-tive director. “If you change the environment, you change the behavior,” she notes.
Healthy Central Florida’s Breathe Free Winter Park campaign has enlisted 32 restaurants that have pledged to keep their dining patios smoke-free, Buss says. (The number includes some that were already offering smoke-free patios along with others that changed their policy.)
Research helped make the case that restaurants don’t miss losing many customers when they ban outdoor smoking: The 2014 health assessment found that only 10.3 percent of Winter Park residents and 7.3 percent of Maitland residents are smokers.
In Eatonville, Healthy Central Florida is combating diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases.
The partnership’s research found that almost one in four residents of the historically African-American town had been diagnosed with diabetes — more than twice the national rate, says Julie Clyatt, a nurse practitioner for Florida Hospital.
Clyatt is program director for Healthy Eatonville Place, a center funded by the foundation, Florida Hospital and the pharmaceutical company Sanofi.
Since Healthy Eatonville Place opened in mid-2014, Clyatt says, about 350 people have benefited from health assessments and diabetes education programs, which are provided without charge. It offers cooking and nutrition classes and refers clients to physicians for additional help.
The Florida Hospital Translational Research Institute is studying why diabetes is so prevalent in Eatonville, and whether the strategies of Healthy Eatonville Place prove effective in preventing and controlling it.
One of Healthy Eatonville Place’s success stories is 60-year-old Charles Jackson, who was diagnosed with diabetes 35 years ago and later had quadruple bypass surgery. In cooking classes, Jackson says, he learned how to stop using salt and substitute other seasonings when preparing dinner — and to be more skeptical about ingredients.
“I never read a label until I got involved in the class,” says the tall, lanky Jackson, who also joined a Healthy Eatonville Place support group and realized that many of his neighbors were dealing with similar problems.
Despite his arthritis, Jackson says, he has been walking more than a mile every day “in segments” and is proud that he has stopped using a cane.
Jackson still struggles with his health. But in sum-ming up his situation, he could be citing a goal the foundation has for everyone as it prepares to break ground on Project Wellness:
“I’m in a much better place — mentally, physically and spiritually.”
AN INVESTMENT IN WELLNESS
Here are the three largest grants the Winter Park Health Foundation awarded in 2014 (the most recent year available) in each of four categories. A complete list is at wphf.org/grants.
CHILDREN AND YOUTH
• Foundation for Orange County Public Schools: $569,685 for CHILL, a mental-health counseling program.
• Foundation for Orange County Public Schools: $129,538 for two school-based health centers and nurse practitioners.
• Orange County Public Schools: $85,955 for a School Nursing Initiative, which helps provide nurses in 12 public schools.
• National Gerontological Nursing Association: $64,196 for Be@Ease Central Florida, which encourages individuals and families to discuss and share their wishes for end-of-life care.
• VOICE (Volunteers Organized in Community Engagement): $48,365 for a program in which senior volunteers address community issues.
• Senior Resource Alliance: $40,000 for Neighbors Network, a membership organization that gives older adults help with household tasks.
• Florida Hospital Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes: $91,290 to support the opening of Healthy Eatonville Place, a health and diabetes-education center.
• Grace Medical Home: $42,000 for development of an electronic health record system.
• Hebni Nutrition Consultants: $36,240 for cooking classes and nutrition education for Eatonville residents who have or are at risk of developing diabetes.
• Winter Park Memorial Hospital: $400,000 for development of a Family Medicine Residence Building.
• Florida Hospital Foundation: $41,000 for a community health assessment and $180,000 for Healthy Central Florida, a large-scale health and wellness initiative.