'Family comes first' was one of the qualities of Blue Zone healthy communities, along with a friend and faith base, "your tribe."
Attendees of the 9th annual Northeast Oklahoma Regional Alliance (NORA) Summit learned solutions to becoming a Blue Zone of optimal health and longevity, along with networking and participating in workshops targeting economic development enhancement.
NORA Executive Director Darla Heller was impressed by the amount of public health professionals engaged and their willingness to lend their voices to assist communities grow and thrive.
"This summit was a meeting by which public health and community and economic development really came together," said Heller. "I look forward to NORA being a change maker for our region and continuing this conversation."
NORA President Johnny Earp's community of Jay is a living example of success through NORA partnerships. When the one industry that kept Jay going was about to fold four years ago, community leaders contacted NORA.
A one-stop light community can come a long way, said Earp, "a little adversity can turn into an opportunity with NORA when we work together."
"The Cherokee Nation, Grand Gateway and other economic partners got together and within 120 days a buyer was found for this company, and six months later another investor," said Earp. "Now we have a new medical facility thanks to the Cherokee Nation and our industrial park is growing."
Earp encouraged people to consider participating in NORA's Leadership Academy.
It's a great opportunity. I look out and see so much talent, skill, ability and knowledge, when I wonder what I bring to this, it's tremendous passion and love for community," said Earp.
Liberty Shere, with Northeast Tech and a member of NORA's first Leadership Academy spoke on the class project.
"We needed a project that could be implemented in all counties, be sustainable and adhere to NORA initiatives. "Men in the Making" targets 5th - 8th grade boys and a lot of schools were receptive."
After raising $40,000 to fund 20 schools the program kicked off.
"At least two men mentors donate one hour a week at each school. The first week the boys learn how to shake hands and have eye contact, the second to tie a tie. When the boys went one some had dads and granddads who showed another way to tie a tie so the family was engaged," said Shere. Hygiene, budgeting, how to set a table are other skills learned, gearing up to a final dinner with a "big guy" in the community. "By then the boys are ready to meet him and present themselves well."
One mentor developed internships through the school at his business, Shere said, "attendance, behavior and grades are being tracked for an impact study."
Bringing like-minded people together to talk about health and education - two major components of sustainability of life and communities are passions for Laura Holloway, with Pryor Public Schools, and what she appreciated about this Summit.
"Business people and educators all came together, that's how we change and teach the things we need to teach," said Holloway. "Mentors are where our kids get that connection to what they're going to do in life. "Marching off the Map" is a book to tell you what we'll have to do for this next generation," and why I became an educator."
Mentors are people making a difference, people taking the time to make a difference, said Holloway, "time is your most valuable gift."
NORA's Summit, "focused on creating healthier families," said Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker.
"Healthy families lead to healthier communities and workforce, which means a healthier regional economy," said Baker. "Cherokee Nation is the historical economic driver of northeast Oklahoma and has made health care a priority over the past six years."
There is an old saying: a rising tide raises all ships. That is true in our case, said Baker.
"In our corner of Oklahoma, we all benefit through the economic development and diversification of Cherokee Nation. It enables us to do more for tribal citizens as well as non-Cherokees," Baker said.
Cherokee Nation will always remain a leader in the region, because the tribe is not going anywhere, he said, "this is our home, and that is why we are committed to the regional development dialogue provided through our NORA association."
The Cherokee Nation had a more than $2 billion impact last year on the state, is currently building the largest healthcare facility in Indian Country which will add 800 plus jobs and a medical teaching facility. The tribe also provided scholarships to more than 5000 Cherokee students.
"We want them to come home and to do that we have to do what you do, have jobs for them to come home to," Baker said.
Several attendees found solutions to improve where they work.
Laura Holden, Langley Court Clerk, learned about creative retail revenue.
"The Cherokee Nation will help us with data to provide for incoming businesses, tools we don't have to provide for ourselves," said Holden. "We're trying to get more revenue because we're such a small community. This is something we can actually use."
Marie Smith, supervisor of the Cherokee Nation Mortgage Assistance Program found information in the Google Maps presentation to improve their services.
"I learned how you can set up your own page, add texts and videos and keep up to date with technology, and mapping techniques," said Smith. "I looked at Tahlequah, people had even taken pictures of places, whoever mapped a place first gets to have the first impact. People need to claim their business before someone else does and put positive information."
NORA board member Tami McKeon said the speakers shared the common theme of collaboration with and among stakeholders, "to enable entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses seamlessly within your community."
Eliminating boundaries that keep us from achieving success, said Heller, is a major goal.
"Collaboration is what we do best to create a strong, health northeast Oklahoma," Heller said.
There are nine states and 42 communities identified as Blue Zones, including Shawnee, Oklahoma, yet statewide in the unenviable position of 46th nationwide for health.
"There is a health care crisis across America - across Oklahoma, 84 percent of U.S. medical costs are explained by physical inactivity, food choices, portion size, tobacco and unmanageable stress," said Blue Zone expert and luncheon keynote speaker Nick Buettner
The answer lies not in Washington but within us, to change our environment and lifestyle, Buettner, during his lunchtime keynote address. Along with slides from a National Geographic photographer/videographer for a special by Buettner and his brother, "The Secrets of Living Longer."
"You have to be surrounded by love with a strong sense of faith, be connected, the right tribe, and right outlook," Buettner said, "eat wisely and more naturally."
Friends matter, he said, "if your three best friends smoke and are unhappy there's 150 percent chance you are too."
Consider how a person spends time and who with as a picture of priorities and level of health. Sense of purpose matters, such as volunteering and spending time with grandchildren. Having a right outlook can reduce stress, activities such as walking and bicycling downshifting activities and even ancestor veneration.
The 80 percent rule applies to water, tea, coffee and wine but, "no soda pop," he said.
"Lifestyles and habits determine how long you'll live," said Buettner. "A friend base, spiritual community, 7 1/2 hours of sleep nightly, 30 minutes of exercise three times weekly and veggies three times a day with a meal, and you can expect to live to 90. The most important indicator is to expect to live to 90."
In Sardonia, Italy, one of the places with the longest lived men, keep an active pace, have meat only three times a month, grandparents move in with children and contribute to the grandchildren and community. In Okinawa life expectancy is seven years longer than in America, they have a plant based diet, eat only until 80 percent full and are sick less. They have a strong sense of purpose and community and are active with martial arts.
"If you have less than three friends that's defined as lonely and isolation kills," said Buettner.
It was in Ikana, Greece, Buettner had an ah-ha moment.
"No where in a Blue Zone did I meet someone age 50 who starts to exercise or go on a diet hoping to make it to 90," he said,
Secretary of Health Dr. Terry Cline said education is the pathway out of poverty. In the south, the map that indicates poverty based on median household income and most unhealthy regions are much the same.
Three behaviors that result in four diseases that result in 60 percent of deaths, many of which are premature, are tobacco use, poor diet (obesity) and sedentary lifestyle, said Cline who noted unhealthy employees and higher health care costs could instead go for improvements in a business and raises.
"We impact these issues with intentional changes," said Cline, who noted Oklahoma is behind much of the nation on everything from sex education to sidewalks. Tobacco is the #1 preventable cause of death in Oklahoma with tobacco related causes that are self-inflicted. It's one of the few products that when used as directed will kill you. The rest of the country is aggressively addressing this killer."
The 12 or 13 paid tobacco lobbyists are working the capitol, Cline said, but community coalitions drive the rates lower.
"Contact your legislator if you want the tobacco tax to increase and to speak against tobacco," he said. "We are making a difference through strategic action plans."
Cline also said with Oklahoma ranking 46th in health, the infant mortality rate is high, including babies who won't live to see their first birthday. Also immunization rates have improved, "that's one of the best protections for our children."
Addictions continue to be a concern, "people will intentionally break a bone to get opiods."
People can intentionally choose healthier options, "put more color on your plate, build more physical activity into your day, and be tobacco free," said Cline, challenging everyone to, "move upstream and create healthier communities. It's in your best interest to have healthier businesses and communities - look for partners like NORA."
Lisa Smith, with Lake Area United Way and a facilitator with a workshop, said, "mentoring our youth will enhance education, health and wellness and financial stability.
Presenter Barbara Hawkins with the Pryor Chamber of Commerce, addressed getting the community involved in mentoring through programs like, "Mayes County Prosperity Project and The Leader in Me."
"It's increased the high school graduate rate and created a culture of inspiring greatness one child at a time by understanding their worth and potential and practicing principles to reach their potential," said Hawkins.
Derald Glover, Fort Gibson Schools Superintendent, started engaging senior citizens to come read to children.
"In one year it created a bond," Glover said, sharing one of the many success stories in the schools mentor program. "The first day one volunteer said he didn't think it was going to work, "the boy said, "you're an old white guy," and by the end of the year the child was holding on to the mentor and crying because he wasn't going to see him all summer."
The bond is more than reading help, said Glover, it's especially critical for at-risk youth.
Managing the mentor program at Ft. Gibson schools, Ben Pemberton said they see miracles happen all the time.
"You can't underestate the iportance of positive relationships, a mentor empowers a person to see a possible future and how it can be obtained," said Pemberton. "Feeling someone is concerned about you and they want you to succeed makes all the difference."
Mentor programs impact academic success, student behavior issues and attendance rates. Positive relationships can have a major impact. Mentor programs usually begin with third grade students not involved in extra-curricular activities because that tells about parent involvement. Nearly all the mentees and mentors wanted to rejoin the program after the first year, the impact on the adult is just as profound as on the student.
NSU President Dr. Steve Turner said the fact that it's the 9th Summit says it all.
"I hope and plead our state will do what you are doing, doing the right thing, making commitments to make your home a place you want to live, your children will want to come home to and your grandchildren will enjoy," Turner said.
Find out more about NORA at www.neokregion.org.