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Press Release

For Immediate Release: March 17, 2008
Contact: CDC, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Office of Communication; 770-488-5131

Community Heroes Honored for Contributions to CDC's Steps Program

Seven community heroes were recently honored at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Steps Program's Action Institute for their extraordinary contributions in improving the health and well-being of Americans in school, worksite, healthcare or community settings. The "Steps Community Heroes Award-2008," sponsored by the YMCA of the USA, was held in Washington, D.C., on March 20, 2008.

"Turning the tide in chronic disease requires changes in our communities that support health where we live, learn, work and play," said Janet Collins, Ph.D., director, CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. "These award recipients demonstrate the valuable impact that individuals can make in changing the places, organizations, policies and systems that touch people's lives every day."

The award recognizes contributions made by individuals in support of CDC's Steps Program, which funds communities across the country to create models for how local initiatives can reduce the burden of chronic diseases. The award winners include a school food service director, American Indian storyteller, retired nurse, physical education teacher, middle school student, graduate student, school administrator, and community activist. The winners were selected from a total of 23 nominations submitted by the 40 Steps-funded communities.

The recipients of the 2008 Steps Community Heroes Award are:

Ray Denniston–Conklin, New York

As the food service director for a local school district, Ray Denniston understands the link between hungry children and low academic performance. To ensure that all children are well fed and ready to learn, Mr. Denniston established a "Back Pack" program to provide nutritious foods to students who would otherwise go hungry. Partnering with a local food bank, the program provides weekly food packs to 60 students after school, on weekends, and during holiday breaks. In addition, Mr. Denniston spearheaded a partnership with local farmers and food distributors to feature locally grown produce on the cafeteria menus of the district's 12 elementary schools, which serve 14,000 students.

Peggy Johns–Largo, Florida

Peggy Johns, a Pinellas County School District administrator, led a successful movement to pass legislation reinstating health education as a state requirement for high school graduation. In 2006, the Florida legislature approved the bill, and the state Department of Education created the Health Opportunities through Physical Education (HOPE) class. Ms. Johns now is working to promote new legislation to strengthen the HOPE class requirement. As the supervisor of the county's wellness policy/administration guidelines, Ms. Johns is also leading a campaign to place a nurse in every Pinellas County school. Ms Johns' advocacy and visionary leadership skills have attracted national recognition to the district's health and wellness programs. Her contributions have been recognized by community and national leaders, including the Governor's Council for Physical Fitness.

Dawn Imler and Kelley Brumfield–Cleveland, Ohio

Physical education teacher Dawn Imler and her seventh-grade student Kelley Brumfield use their passion for exercise to encourage physical activity among Cleveland’s young people. In partnership with the Cleveland Steps Program, Ms. Imler, a Buckeye Woodland Elementary School teacher, volunteers with a running program that teaches young people to set and achieve "once unthinkable" physical activity goals as well as increase their self-confidence. The program inspired 13-year-old Kelly, to run a 6.2 mile race in 2008, train for a 13.1-mile half-marathon, and become a peer mentor to other Cleveland students. Because of the Steps Program, today 500 Cleveland young people are training to run races.

Woody Hansen–Jay, Oklahoma

Woody Hansen volunteers his time, expertise, and talents to support the Cherokee Nation Steps Program. Recognizing the importance of having easy access to affordable, fresh produce, Mr. Hansen obtained a grant to lease land and purchase equipment for a community garden in the Cherokee Nation. Mr. Hansen and his family donate their time and energy to till the soil and grow fruits and vegetables in the garden. A skilled storyteller, Mr. Hansen also uses his talents to educate residents about health conditions, such as diabetes, that disproportionately impact American Indians.

Patty Tobal–Hopwood, Pennsylvania

A longtime community activist, Patty Tobal has worked hard to promote and establish permanent environmental changes in her community as a way to increase physical activity among residents. As the chairwoman of a local health coalition, she successfully advocated for new sidewalks and walking paths, built in 2007, along a historic highway in her community. She volunteers on a countywide health ministry group that has recruited multiple churches to establish similar ministries for their congregations. Ms. Tobal, a retired nurse, also encouraged local restaurants and grocery stores to offer healthier food choices and increase physical activity in the Hopwood community.

Stephanie Heim–Rochester, Minnesota

Graduate student Stephanie Heim was instrumental in starting an after-school nutrition education program for middle school students at high risk for obesity and diabetes. Working with key Steps partners, including the Rochester Area Family YMCA and Rochester Public Schools, Ms. Heim established a youth gardening program as part of the YMCA's summer camp. She designed the garden, chose plantings, created a curriculum, and taught weekly nutrition classes featuring "taste tests". Ms. Heim's contribution taught the YMCA campers about healthy living and introduced many to the concept of cooking and eating garden-grown produce.

The Steps Program's Action Institute participants, who included public health policymakers and professionals, were on hand to honor the seven community heroes for their outstanding contributions during the event's closing ceremonies.

The Steps Program was established at CDC in 2003 to encourage people to lead healthier lives by being more physically active, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding tobacco. Steps-funded communities support policies, systems, and environmental changes that will create healthier communities. CDC's Steps Program collaborates with the YMCA of the USA, state health departments and tribal entities, the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, and other organizations to disseminate effective interventions that address chronic diseases.

For more information about CDC's Steps Program, visit


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