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Open hearts and open minds drive Petersburg’s Healthy Living and Learning Center

May 14, 2021

the library at HLLC The HLLC began as a desk and a set of shelves at the former Sycamore Street PPL location but grew in 2014 when the new library opened on Washington Street

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released its 2021 Virginia County Health Rankings in March, and Petersburg ranks 132 for health factors and 133 for healthy outcomes out of 133 localities. In response, VCU Massey Cancer Center will continue its efforts at the Petersburg Healthy Living and Learning Center (HLLC) to provide community education about overall wellness.

The HLLC opened at the Petersburg Public Library (PPL) in 2012 after Massey researcher Debbie L. Cadet, Ph.D., M.S.W., approached the Crater Health District (CHD) of the Virginia Department of Health, along with Carlin Rafie, Ph.D., R.D., the former director of clinical research affiliates for Massey. Cadet and Rafie saw the library as a natural fit for a space to provide cancer and chronic disease resources and screening information.

“We came into the Petersburg area with an open heart and open minds. Our intention was to listen and provide services, resources and assistance where we could make an impact,” remembers Cadet. “We are empowering individuals to take charge of their lives, and this work could not have been made possible without the generous support, donations and partnership we have received for the HLLC.”

Entrance to the HLLC Entrance to the HLLC at the Petersburg Public Library (PPL).

The HLLC began as a desk and a set of shelves at the former Sycamore Street PPL location but grew in 2014 when the new library opened on Washington Street. Representatives from Massey, CHD and PPL staff the Center, which has also expanded to offer free fitness and meditation programs.

Katelyn Schifano, community health educator and liaison for Massey, is eager to cultivate more relationships when the library reopens from the COVID pandemic.

“This partnership has made me feel more connected to the community. Being physically in the library once a week, meeting with people who come into the library, sitting and talking to people, learning with them, it's great,” says Schifano. “Working on the leadership team for the HLLC helps keep me aware of different engagement opportunities that are available and new partnerships that can be developed.”

According to the HLLC, it has served more than 5000 people with its mission to address health literacy throughout the Petersburg community.

“This effort started with three major partnering organizations and has grown to include partners from almost every segment of the community,” explains Wayne Crocker, PPL director. “The overall investment of capital, energy and ideas continues to impact seniors, adults and children.” The HLLC offers several resources including support groups, assistance with enrolling in health insurance, free blood pressure checks and brochures in both English and Spanish.

“The VCU Massey Cancer Center partnership has helped the HLLC with staffing, training, advising and evaluation,” adds Robert Noriega, M.S., HLLC program coordinator. “It’s all much needed for such a small community-based program that meets the needs of many.”

Written by: Amy Lacey

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