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Helping people with chronic conditions to 'Eat Well, Be Well'

VCU Massey Comprehensive Center’s seed grant recipients are growing community-led health initiatives throughout Virginia.

 People in doctor’s coats and scrubs standing with a big check The Free Clinic of Powhatan are one of Massey’s 2024 Seed Grant recipients. (VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center)

By Amy Lacey and Sara McCloskey

More than half of the current patients seen at the Free Clinic of Powhatan live with at least one chronic illness.

To help patients better manage these conditions, the clinic is launching a new nutrition education and wellness program, “Eat Well, Be Well,” that will teach people how to select and prepare budget-friendly healthy meals as well as offer weekly coaching calls.

This program’s launch was possible with the support from a community seed grant from VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center that helps organizations expand their reach. As the only safety net provider for uninsured and low-income residents in the counties of Powhatan, Amelia, Cumberland and some zip codes in Chesterfield, the health care facility relies mainly on volunteers and the assistance of institutions, like Massey.

“With heavy reliance on volunteers, our clinic has sought out support to launch a wellness initiative for several years,” Elizabeth Ream, executive director of Free Clinic of Powhatan. “Massey’s grant opportunity, along with the support of the Community Outreach and Engagement team, helped guide us to a starting point with both financial and programmatic resources.”

The Free Clinic of Powhatan was founded in 2008 on a mission of “building a healthier community one person at a time.” It provides primary, chronic and specialty care; medication counseling; behavioral and women’s health care; case management; and in-house dentistry.

The “Eat Well, Be Well,” program will serve 50 people in 2024. Patients who opt in to the program attend two in-person education classes. Participants also identify two healthy living goals and, along with a three-month motivational health journal, receive weekly wellness coaching to encourage and support steps for success.

“With 66% of current patients living with at least one chronic illness diagnosis, “Eat Well, Be Well” can help them prevent disease, or its progression, through greater control of their choices,” Ream said.

Since the program launched in December 2021, 16 organizations have received seed grants through Massey’s Community Grant Initiative, which amounts to $5,000. The seed grants are the first level of funding available through the grant initiative. Each seed grant-funded program focuses on the promotion of health and health equity and aims to reduce suffering across the cancer continuum, from prevention through survivorship.

Ream says the value of working with Massey goes beyond the grant. The clinic received a summary of cancer data in its service area from Massey’s Office of Catchment Area Data Analytics (CADA); it also learned about free support and resources for families dealing with cancer diagnoses.

“These are projects that an organization with two full-time employees could never dream of undertaking but that help us learn more about, and treat, the whole person,” Ream said. “The CADA information for the counties of Powhatan, Cumberland, Chesterfield and Amelia revealed cancer rates in Amelia that are higher in almost every category than neighboring counties, the Massey region and state. We began discussions internally on what we can do as a clinic to screen patients and educate the community at large.”

For questions about Massey’s Community Grant Initiative, grant partner organizations or future requests for proposals, email engagemassey@vcu.edu.