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by Cynthia N. Hicks, DPP participant, written in July 2020

The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) is a nutrition and fitness model designed to make participants aware of the proactive measures that can be taken to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.  This progressive brainchild is the collaboration of the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan (NKFM), Western Wayne Family Health Centers (WWFHC) and Wayne State University (WSU) in conjunction with Gleaners Food Bank. Although there are several sites where this year long program is conducted, our particular group was held at the Inkster campus of WWFHC.  A year later, program graduates, now known as DPP Ladies of Inkster, are more knowledgeable.  Something magical happened along the way.  Here’s our story. . .

The very first meeting was like peeking at a cook’s ingredients before the meal was made. You knew it was going to be fabulous!  There was only a small group of us, 8 in fact, but the room was full of diversity:  a lawyer, a nurse, teachers, an interior designer, entrepreneur, chef, health care professionals, sorority sisters and rivals, community workers and political advocates. Some were retired, others employed, a few were course repeaters.

I sat amazed as each gave background information.  I imagined the individuals at their stated professions. But imagery faded as I began to realize that we all had the same goals and objectives for being in that particular class:

  • Increase our knowledge and understanding of type 2 diabetes and its prevention
  • Improve our own individual health and wellness through nutrition and fitness.
  • Increase our ability to share our knowledge and help increase awareness of type 2 diabetes among our family, friends and within our community.

The content of DPP provided by the NKFM was thought provoking and engaging. WWFHC provided tremendous support services by allowing DPP meetings to be held at its facility and providing an awesome facilitator, Octavia Smith.  Weekly meetings were wonderful!  You could be an example and get an example at the same meeting. I could see something of myself in everyone and in everyone, I could see someone I admired and hoped to be.  Early on, I felt it was necessary to be my authentic self.  Later, I found out that others felt the same. The first leg of the DPP required 16 weekly meetings. Developing new skill sets and ultimately new friendships was a win-win.

Around week 5, fitness came into focus.  After a quick evaluation, we discovered most of our group did not put aside time to exercise.  To meet the program goal of 150 minutes of fitness per week, we decided to arrive 1/2 to one hour early before each meeting to walk around the parking lot.  It’s funny how you will readily make sacrifices for others that you won’t do for yourself.  And not long after, we were doing a 5K.

Before I delve into the significance of the 5K, I want to say a little bit about our facilitator.  She is a warm and cheerful person, incredibly focused and resourceful. Her enthusiasm for health, wellness and fitness make her an invaluable asset to WWFHC and the community at large.  If we had questions regarding any topic we were curious about, not only did she cover the material, she provided supporting documentation. On more than one occasion, she brought in a nutritionist to answer our dietary questions.  We were encouraged to take advantage of a plethora of resources right in our own community.  Her affiliation with a federally qualified health organization, not to mention her natural networking abilities, put us in line for great opportunities such as:  cooking classes, Inkster community events like the citywide garage sale, and small business support day, to name a few.  She introduced us to and provided us with so much additional documentation and resources that they required a binder and bag of their own.  Her daily texts and greetings almost always included reminders of our goals.  She often said, “View each day as an opportunity to try again”.   She had a gentle way of firmly nudging you in the right direction.

When our facilitator told us about the MOTTEP (Gift of Life’s Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program) Foundation 5K challenge in 2019, the majority of us had never participated in any type of organized walk/race.  It was exciting but scary.  Some had walked no further than around the WWFHC parking lot, so the 5K seemed daunting. Our facilitator urged us to start where we were.

Once we defined a kilometer, dismissed the “I will never be able to. . .” thinking, training began. Garden City Park (GCP) was chosen as our new training ground. The 5K was a little more than 90 days away and we met biweekly from that point on – one day for the DPP meeting, one day at GCP for 5K training. Individual strengths were identified. Areas of struggle were disclosed in a safe and supportive environment where there was no judgment. Encouragement was the rallying call.

One member, a notorious night owl, who often arrived late to meetings and hated morning meetings, volunteered to lead the group in stretches before we started our walk practice each week.   Surprisingly, she never arrived late for her 5K training assignment, which was scheduled earlier in the morning so we could beat the noonday sun.

An older, soft spoken member was left on the bench resting to catch her breath the first or second time we went out to practice. It was weeks before she told us that the group she was walking with never came back to get her. She vowed never to be left behind again. Today, our little benchwarmer can walk circles around most of us. You got to get up mighty early if you want to catch or keep up with her now!

Another member who never gave herself much credit, could not see herself walking around the park.   After gaining confidence and learning a few techniques, she began sharing what she learned with others.  Now, even one year later, people in the group and others that she has inspired, give her all the credit.
Of course, I suspect every group has one — a fierce multitasker. Ours is one of the oldest members of the team. If there were nanoseconds on a planner, she would have something scheduled! She comes to training and maximizes her time and effort spent there. One way she accomplished that was by scaling the hill.  It seemed insurmountable to the rest of us. If you ever saw her do it, you’d be standing with your mouth agape while she voice texts you adieu on her way out of the parking lot to her next appointment.  But we all tried it at least once.

Communication was the key.  We listened to each other.   We respected each other.   We learned the program content and how to apply it. We shared best practices with each other and with family and friends. We were proud to be participants in the 5K.   Time went by so quickly, spring, summer and fall.  The first leg of the program was now behind us.

The 5K practice run took place on the site where the 5K walk was scheduled to be held, the Inkster Golf Course. Did I mention we had a few golfers in the group?  One of them contacted management who agreed to allow us access to the course for our dry run.  It was a cool late fall afternoon and the brisk breeze rustled the flags on their poles in the sea of sand and grass of the beautifully manicured greens. As we strolled the fairway, our guide and teammate explained the difference between a “long and short game”.  (I, myself, believe I would excel at the short game.  I’ll know for sure when I get the “free golf lesson” she promised.)   Also, she told us a delightfully humorous story about how a snake got in her basement and met his demise.   As the sun approached the horizon, we had walked the golf course in preparation for the 5K!  In hindsight, we didn’t think much of it; we were in training.

The big day finally arrived. We all could don our t-shirts and show our community, each other, and ourselves what we were made of. This was the most precious moment, when you realized that each one started as an individual at a different spot in the race. But, with patience and perseverance, we crossed the finish line together as a team.

At this point, DPP no longer determined how often we communicated. We spoke almost daily.  Supporting the community included the personal support of each other.   Acknowledgment of holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries was commonplace. If a team member had transportation issues or just needed/wanted something from your side of Michigan Ave, all they had to do was say the word.  We had become sisters. You received praise for your personal bests and triumphs. Challenges and setbacks warranted support.

In March 2020, our nation was hit with the coronavirus pandemic.  The entire state of Michigan was in lockdown.  Stay at home orders issued by our governor meant that all monthly DPP classes were cancelled until further notice.  Therefore, we initiated our own Zoom meetings in an effort to remain in touch.

We have completed the DPP and are officially graduates. For our first-year anniversary, we completed our second 5K walk.   Because of COVID-19, this was a virtual challenge.  We concluded with raised victory arms, 6 feet apart, right back where we started one year ago at Garden City Park.

In conclusion, as we look back at how far we have come together, and how much each of us has learned about type 2 diabetes prevention over the past year, we know that none of this would have been quite the same without each other. It would have been almost impossible without the support and content from WWFHC and NKFM.   However, the glue that held it all together was the facilitator, mentor and friend, our sister, Octavia Smith.

This story was covered by Hometown Life on 3/9/21.

DPP Ladies of Inkster