‘Somebody in My Corner’: The Healthy Perry Challenge Builds Community through Diabetes Management & Prevention


Jennifer Weeber, of Hazard. As a member of the Perry County Diabetes Coalition, Jennifer helped organize the Healthy Perry Challenge.

If you’re trying to change your habits, especially when it comes to your blood sugar, sometimes just plain wanting to isn’t quite enough. Sometimes, the biggest help to making a new habit stick is knowing you’re not doing it alone.

As Jennifer Weeber, of the Perry County Diabetes Coalition, puts it in this radio story (push play above to listen!):

“You know, changing habits is hard!  I always think that if you’ve got someone that you can relate to, because they are in a similar situation to you… getting that peer-to-peer support and that information, I think, just really hits home a lot more, and is a lot more motivating than an expert telling you what to do.”

In fact, support is such a helpful part of managing your A1C that the Perry County Diabetes Coalition recently built a whole program around that idea: The Healthy Perry Challenge. The Challenge was a six-week program that took place in the summer of 2021, where participants would set daily goals for healthy eating & physical activity, to try to help make healthier habits—especially when it comes to diabetes—a normal part of their everyday routine.

But then, even after taking an evening walk or making a healthy meal, participants weren’t done. The Healthy Perry Challenge also encouraged participants to post photos of themselves to social media, along with the hashtag #healthyperry, to show their friends and neighbors what they were up to, in the kitchen or on the trail— so then every participant also became a role model for healthy habits online.

Becky Stacy, of Hazard, out on the trail. Becky was a participant in last year’s Healthy Perry Challenge. [photo courtesy of Becky Stacy]

In this radio story, we hear from one of the organizers of the Healthy Perry Challenge (Jennifer Weeber, of Hazard), as well as a participant (Becky Stacy, of Hazard). In particular, Becky has type 2 diabetes, and she took part in the Healthy Perry Challenge as a part of a shift towards healthy habits that she had already started making in her life— a shift that helped her lose 30 lbs., in just 6-7 months!  As she says:

“I was already kind of doing the things I should be doing. But I think [The Healthy Perry Challenge] made me more accountable: to make sure that, you know, I’d put the hashtag on there, and I’d put my picture on there, and say, ‘Hey, I did this today. I did this much exercise… and also to encourage other people to do it as well!”

Push play above to hear this piece. Or click below to read a full transcript. And for more information on hiking and outdoor activities of all kinds in Perry County, check out The Pathfinders of Perry County on Facebook. And for more on Becky’s adventures in hiking and healthy living, click here to find her hiking group on Facebook.

Music in this story was performed by Don Bikoff (“Traveling Riverside Blues”), from the Free Music Archive. and by Glenn Jones (“Bergen County Farewell), also from the Free Music Archive.

Click here for the full transcript of this story:


[BECKY STACY]: So my ‘Papaws,’ every morning when I go to run, there’s a shelter. And they’re sitting there in their shelter, drinking their McDonald’s coffee, probably having their— I imagine they’re eating Egg McMuffins. But they cheer me on! And, you know, it’s just, ‘You got this girl, you can do it!’

[NARRATOR]: If you’re trying to make a change in your habits, especially when it comes to your health, professionals say it helps a lot to have support. for Becky Stacy, of Hazard, sometimes that support is sitting right there waiting for her, at the Perry County Park, from a group she calls her ‘Papaws.’

[BECKY]: You know, it’s kind of like having somebody in my corner, even though I don’t even really know them, but they cheer me on every time I go around a lap. And if one of them’s missing when I go one day, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh— we’re missing a Papaw.’

[NARRATOR]: For Becky, who spoke with WMMT last fall, getting physical activity of some kind has recently become a standard part of her everyday routine, whether it’s a run or a hike or even just a walk. But while being active is of course important for all of us, for Becky, the stakes are a little different. Becky has type 2 diabetes, which can have serious health consequences if it’s left unmanaged. But, the good news is diabetes can be controlled. Or even prevented in the first place.

[BECKY]: So, my A1C at one time was 12, which is astronomical. I do have it down to 6 right now. But I have to watch everything that goes in my body. And I have to make sure that I’m doing my exercises, and— I know it’s cliche, but it takes a lifestyle change. It really, really does.

[NARRATOR]: So if you haven’t heard of it, that ‘A1C’ number that Becky just mentioned is important to diabetes— it’s a measure of how much glucose, or sugar, is in your blood. And health professionals say two of the biggest ways to lower your A1C are just what Becky’s doing: getting regular physical activity, and being more conscious of what you eat. And you don’t necessarily have to make huge changes to make a difference in your a1c. For exercise, it could be as small as getting up and moving around your house when commercials come on if you’re watching TV. And the same goes for eating. In fact, for Becky, she’s done more extreme diets before, but found them hard to stick with. She said she’s had the most success with smaller changes.

[BECKY]: I do eat low-carb, but I do add in some carbs— good carbs. And I make sure that I balance with exercise; I make sure that I’m not— you know, at one time, I was drinking lots of diet soda, which, even without the sugar, it’s still not good for you. So I’ve switched it out for water. Guacamole with vegetables instead of with chips; I’ve done that. Just those kind of small changes have made a big difference for me, in terms of being able to maintain, and not fall off the wagon again.

[NARRATOR]: And being able to stay on the wagon has paid off— within some 6-7 months of starting to eat healthier and getting more regular exercise, Becky was seeing results.

[BECKY]: I’ve probably lost 30 lbs. since February. I’d like to lose about 30 more, if I can. But my cholesterol looks good; my A1C looks good; my pulse rate… everything has changed just because of these little changes that I’ve made.

* * *

[NARRATOR]: While Becky’s perseverance is definitely unique, she’s hardly alone in facing diabetes, especially here in the mountains. Rates of type 2 in eastern Kentucky are higher than the state and national averages. And even more local people are dealing with prediabetes, which basically means your blood sugar is high enough that you’re on the road to type 2 unless you can make some changes.

[NARRATOR]: There are people out there trying to help, though. And in Perry County, where Becky lives, a local group, the Perry County Diabetes Coalition, got together last year to see if there might be a way to reach people in the county when it comes to diabetes, especially in the midst of the pandemic.

[JENNIFER WEEBER]: Last Fall, folks started talking about— it’d be really good to kind of… see what we can do. Because we’re starting to see some of the effects of folks who haven’t been able to go their doctor, because of Covid.

[NARRATOR]: This is Jennifer Weeber, who also lives in Hazard. Jennifer works with the non-profit group The Community Farm Alliance, and she’s also a member of the Perry County Diabetes Coalition.

[JENNIFER]: So when our coalition got back together, it was really important for us to find some ways—aside from what we could do on social media—to get the community involved in diabetes management and prevention.

[NARRATOR]: What Jennifer and the coalition landed on was trying something new: a program called the Healthy Perry Challenge. It was a six-week program in the summer of 2021 that encouraged people, as they went about their day, to set goals for managing those two huge components of lower blood sugar: physical activity, and healthy eating.

[JENNIFER]: The idea behind it was that folks were setting their own goals, based on what they needed. But, in general: getting at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week; eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day; and drinking 64 oz. of water.

And part of that was encouraging folks to walk, or be active, wherever they could. But we encouraged folks to walk the trails, or hike the trails, that we have in the Perry County Park. We encouraged folks to go to the Perry Co. Farmers’ Market to get fresh green beans, and tomatoes, and squash, and all those good vegetables— and post about it! Post their healthy meals! Post themselves on the trail, all sweaty and whatever from their hike. And then we gave prizes at the end for folks who had done those things.

[NARRATOR]: Because it’s possible to have prediabetes, or even type 2, without even knowing it, they opened up the Healthy Perry Challenge to everyone in the community, whether or not they’d been diagnosed with high blood sugar. And while prizes were a part of the program, Jennifer says that maybe even a bigger help to making a change to your routine is knowing you’re not doing it alone.

[JENNIFER]: You know, changing habits is hard!

I always think that if you’ve got someone that you can relate to because they are in a similar situation to you, whether it be they’re from the same hometown, or they’re going through some of the same health stuff— getting that peer-to-peer support and that information, I think, just really hits home a lot more, and is a lot more motivating than an expert telling you what to do.

* * *

[BECKY] You were supposed to get so many fruits per day; so many vegetables a day—they gave you a checklist—so much exercise per week…

[NARRATOR] Here again is Becky Stacy. Becky participated in the Healthy Perry Challenge. And the program’s daily goals around exercise and healthy eating fit right in with the goals she had already been setting as a part of her own health journey.

[BECKY]: I was already kind of doing the things I should be doing. But I think it made me more accountable. To make sure that, you know, I’d put the hashtag on there, and I’d put my picture on there, and say, ‘Hey I did this today; I did this much exercise.’ And also to encourage other people to do it as well.

[JENNIFER]: We encouraged folks to have fun with it! Becky Stacy, who I know you’ve talked to, did a lot of posting. She got into it, and would challenge some other folks involved in it to get on a hike, or cook something up. Which is probably the best form of interaction online— ‘Hey, I’m up on the trail! Where are you?!’

[BECKY] There were probably two or three people that I was competing against every day. And it was more of just a friendly competition, it was people I already knew, and we would encourage one another.

And in fact, one of the people that joined was my niece. And so we were a little bit competitive with one another, but we also cheered each other on. But we loved posting our pictures and doing the hashtag and all that stuff— that was a lot of fun, it really was. And we got prizes at the end, so you can’t beat that!

[NARRATOR]: One of the places Becky would post photos from during the Challenge was a new set of hiking trails, at the Perry County Park, in Hazard. In fact, since beginning to get healthier, Becky has fallen deeply in love with hiking, to the point where she’s now doing things like 14-mile solo hikes to the tops of mountains. And she even started her own hiking group on Facebook, where she’s built a community around local hiking, and sharing about her health journey. But she got her start, in part, by finding this new set of trails, right in her town, at the Perry County Park.

[BECKY]: I actually knew nothing about it, and when I decided to try to get healthy, and I started walking at the track, one day I saw a sign that said ‘hiking trail.’ I had no idea.

[NARRATOR]: She says the first day she tried the trails, she made it maybe a tenth of a mile.

[BECKY]: Well, that would’ve been ascending a tenth of a mile, and I… was done. But the next day I went back. And I guess the thing is—as a child in eastern Kentucky, we were in the hills a lot. And so I thought, why can’t I do that now? As an adult, do I think that I’m not allowed to do that? And so I found that joy again, I guess. And every day I would go back and just try to go a little bit farther, even if I had to stop and rest.

And it’s made a big difference in my blood sugar readings, a big difference.

[NARRATOR]: And even if Becky discovered these trails almost by accident, for Jennifer Weeber, it was no accident at all. In order to get healthy, you need to have healthy options available. And so the new trail system Becky found is just one part of a larger effort around Hazard that several organizations are working on to connect people with ways to get healthy. Whether that’s building trails to make exercising accessible, starting a sliding-scale program at the Perry County Farmers’ Market to make healthy food affordable, or putting on programs like the Healthy Perry Challenge.

[JENNIFER]: There’s a lot of ways that I think we can look at health. Obviously, the physical health. There’s mental health. There’s the connection of being socially engaged with other people. There’s having financial health in your budget…

And so, this walking challenge is one aspect of that. The work that we’re doing around local food is another aspect of that. It’s a community intervention, and it’s about getting our entire community healthy.

[NARRATOR]: This first run of the Healthy Perry Challenge had 13 participants. Jennifer does say she was a little disappointed in the turnout. But, she still considers the program a success for its first year, and hopes they can build on it in years to come.

[JENNIFER]: I hope we do it again and I hope we can get more. But even though we only had about 13 folks, that’s 13 more folks who were working on diabetes management through activity and healthy eating. And who knows how many folks they are impacting? Either by their stories, or by the fact that they’re the person cooking, and so whoever they’re cooking for is going to eat more vegetables, and lean proteins, and whatever the case may be, too. So, I am pleased with the first time we did this, and our impact.

[NARRATOR]: For her part, Becky says she’s found a set of lifestyle changes that are sustainable for her, to keep her diabetes under control. And no matter what, with how Becky has shared her health journey online for others to see, during the Healthy Perry Challenge and otherwise, through her Facebook group, Jennifer thinks she’s already done a ton to serve as a role model for others in the community.

[JENNIFER]: She is a role model! She was a Kindergarten teacher. She was my daughter’s Kindergarten teacher, that’s how I met her. And so I think there are a lot of folks who see what she does, and look up to her, and… I just love her! So… let me gush more about Becky!

[BECKY]: And I still do have problems. I still eat too many processed foods. I’m working on that, but as far as exercise— I just generally get up an hour earlier, and I’ll go do my run, and maybe a hike that morning.

I just, I say to myself— you’re going to die if you don’t do it. I mean, I know that sounds horrible, but diabetes will kill me if I don’t take care of myself. Or I will, you know, start to lose limbs, or digits, or that kind of thing, and it scares me!

And so… I don’t know. That’s what I’d like to see, is just, people in our area become educated about it. And work on prevention. Not wait until, ‘Oh, you’re diabetic’— well, we don’t have to let that happen. Even though heredity does play a part in it, we can still make some changes, that will drastically reduce our chances.

[NARRATOR]: For more information on hiking and outdoor adventures of all kinds in Perry County, check out the group The Pathfinders of Perry County on Facebook. And to find Becky Stacy’s hiking group on Facebook, just search for Becky’s Hiking Adventures. And finally, for more stories of preventing and managing type 2 diabetes in eastern Kentucky, check out our project website, preventdiabeteseky.org.