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For several hours every Monday afternoon from late April to late September, the lower parking lot at the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness–Pinehurst became a country Farmers Market. As the growing season progressed, so did the varieties of fruits and vegetables offered there.

Strawberries, hot-house tomatoes and cold-weather veggies (asparagus, broccoli and lettuces among them) morphed into green beans, field peas and peppers (both hot and bell), and then into watermelons, cantaloupes, okra, field tomatoes, squash and corn.

At various times throughout the summer, market-goers could also find flowering and vegetable plants and seasonally cut flowers, not to mention pickles, jams and jellies—and occasionally even eggs.

FirstHealth employees (and their children) enjoyed the bounty of summer produce from the FirstHealth Farmers Market.

Although a late-season frost and a summer-long drought took their toll on crops, virtually eliminating some and curtailing the growing seasons of others, and record-high temperatures took their toll on shoppers, the FirstHealth Farmers Market flourished. At the height of the season, the market attracted as many as 16 different vendors and dozens of bargain-seekers from throughout the Pinehurst community as well as the FirstHealth employees for whom it was originally intended.

By providing easy access to fresh produce, the Farmers Market fulfilled a goal in the corporate FirstFit initiative to encourage FirstHealth employees to improve their health with healthy eating. It also provided another sales opportunity for Moore County farmers who welcomed the opportunity for new customers.

According to Melissa Watford of FirstHealth Community Health Services, the first-time FirstHealth Farmers Market was an unequivocal success and will return to the Health & Fitness campus in spring/summer 2008. Watford, a health educator with Community Health Services, worked with the Moore County Farmers Market and Moore County Extension Office to coordinate the FirstHealth venture.

“I think we found there is a true need for a Farmers Market,” she says. “This was really designed for employees, and the demand is certainly growing for local produce. It certainly provided more of an appreciation for eating seasonally.”

Surveys conducted during the market season confirmed that assessment as 68 percent of those surveyed indicated that they were eating more different kinds of fruits and vegetables and 64 percent said they believed they were improving their health as a result of the Farmers Market. Eighty-two percent of those surveyed said they were eating more fruits and vegetables because of the Farmers Market.

All of the produce offered at the Farmers Market was locally grown—some of it organically and some with organic methods.

“We had such an unusual year, starting with the frost that led to issues with blueberries and peaches,” Watford says, “but we were successful despite Mother Nature.”

Under certain rare circumstances, people don’t mind being known as losers. Cindy Hardee is one of them.

Hardee is a proud participant in FirstCarolinaCare Insurance Company’s “Biggest Losers” weight-loss program, a self-contained group effort to improve the health of FCC employees.

Cindy Hardee, a “Biggest Losers” success story, is surrounded by some of her co-workers at FirstCarolinaCare Insurance Company.

There have been three “Biggest Losers” and two “Maintain, Don’t Gain” sessions since January of 2007. Because she has been a health educator with FCC only since March 2007, Hardee missed “Biggest Losers I,” but she was actively involved in every other effort. By mid-October, she had lost 32 pounds and was working on 5 to 10 more.

She had also—with the help of FirstHealth’s FirstQuit program—stopped smoking.

“I’m pretty proud,” she says.

During each “Biggest Loser” program, participants were divided into teams—each of approximately equal weight totals.

Each person paid a registration fee and a weekly weigh-in fee. At the end of each program, half of the money that had been collected went to the team recording the greatest percentage of weight loss while 25 percent went to the participant with the greatest percentage of weight loss and 25 percent went to the participant who had lost the most pounds. Each participant decided how he or she wanted to lose weight, and all were encouraged to enroll—if they hadn’t already—in FirstHealth’s Employee Health Improvement Plan. Although exercise was encouraged for each session, it wasn’t an actual program requirement until “Biggest Losers III,” which had a mandated threes-time-a-week exercise component.

Hardee believes the teamwork aspect had a lot to do with her “Biggest Losers” success. That was a common attitude among “Biggest Losers” participants, according to “Biggest Losers” organizer Barbara Maroney, an FCC administrative assistant. “I’ve never been in a team atmosphere like this before,” she says. “We all talk as a group, and we find that the key to the program is being in a group atmosphere. You don’t want to let down your group.”

The effort had the full backing—and participation—of FCC’s leadership, including its president, Ken Lewis. “This was an employee-led, not a management-led program, and I think it did great things for us,” he says. “It allowed us to work as a team, all of us, and it accomplished a great purpose, helping us to lose weight that we needed to lose.”

During the eight-week “Biggest Losers I,” 22 FCC employees lost a total of 193 pounds. During “BL II,” which concluded in June, Hardee was the biggest loser, dropping 11.70 percent of her total body weight. She and colleagues Liz Perkins and Sandra Morris even managed to drop a few extra pounds during the summer-long “Maintain, Don’t Gain” effort.

A registered nurse who promotes wellness among FirstCarolinaCare’s clients, Hardee wasn’t always comfortable about telling people they needed to lose weight and stop smoking when she knew she should be doing the same herself. By fall, however, she felt good enough about her own weight-loss/quit-smoking success to be able to help two FCC client businesses with their own “Biggest Losers” programs.

“We’re practicing what we preach,” she says.

You might call Marion Sharkany a “volunteer’s volunteer.” For a couple of reasons. Sharkany has been at the business of volunteering for 10 years, giving more than 6,700 hours of service to Moore Regional Hospital through a variety of positions. She has also become an advocate for hospital volunteers through her work with the North Carolina Hospital Volunteers (NCHV), an organization for which she has just been installed as president.

Sharkany has been on the NCHV board for six years, spending two years as a district representative, two years as newsletter editor and two years as president-elect. Once she completes her two-year term as president and another two years as past president, she will have fulfilled a 10-year commitment to the group.

Moore Regional Hospital volunteer
Marion Sharkany

“Some marriages don’t last that long,” she says.

Sharkany joined the MRH volunteer team about a year after relocating to Moore County from Connecticut. Like many of her volunteer peers, she wasn’t ready to retire when she approached the Volunteer Services staff about a volunteer job. “I have to be kept busy,” she says.

Sharkany has done just that—first as a third-floor escort guide, then as an Outpatient Waiting Room liaison and later as a Hall Errands volunteer. That job—one she loved—had her running errands for the Pharmacy, Lab and other areas until an aching hip suggested otherwise.

“Now I work here in the (Volunteer Services) office, doing everything as needed,” she says. “That’s me. I’m one of those that if you ask me and tell me once what I’m supposed to do, I’ll do it.”

Nearly 900 men and women volunteer in the three FirstHealth of the Carolinas hospitals and with FirstHealth Hospice & Palliative Care. The 94,605 hours contributed by 769 volunteers during Fiscal Year 2006-07 at Moore Regional alone translated into $1,706,462 of valueadded service to the hospital. Eighteen volunteers worked in six departments at Montgomery Memorial Hospital during the year while another 10 contributed time in five areas at Richmond Memorial.

Volunteers are essential to the work of FirstHealth Hospice & Palliative Care, where the average daily patient census has almost tripled since 2000. During 2006-07, Hospice & Palliative Care volunteers drove more than 16,000 miles, contributing more than 2,750 hours of service with a cost-savings of $56,619.

According to Sharkany, people volunteer for two reasons: a sturdy work ethic and a passionate sense of selflessness.

“I am so awestruck at the various and sundry things volunteers are doing across this state to promote health care,” she says. “They love to give back. I think that’s one of the major things that volunteers do: they love to give back.”