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At a glance
Name: Peggy Hayes
Age: 62
Title: Senior community health worker/educator for HealthVisions; also facilitator for HealthVisions’ Empowered Adult Obesity program
Time in current position: Eight months as facilitator for the obesity program
Education and professional experience: Verizon, 29 years; HealthVisions of Fort Wayne, six years
Coming Tuesday
This year’s Focus sections focus on newcomers. Neophytes. Rookies. The Focus section that will appear in Tuesday’s editions will highlight northeast Indiana residents who are relatively new in their roles in health and education.
Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Peggy Hayes is senior community health worker/educator for HealthVisions of Fort Wayne.

Making a difference keeps HealthVisions staffer going

Visitors could miss Peggy Hayes, down here in the basement of the Fort Wayne Urban League. But they hardly ever do.

Her office is on your right, through the double doors that open into HealthVisions of Fort Wayne, and it’s easy to escape notice. It’s a cozy little warren in which Hayes has hollowed out space for a chair and a desk, surrounded by the sort of glorious clutter that says less about mess than it does the industry of the person in its midst.

As for her nature … well, that’s why a visitor hardly ever misses her.

She’s the proud owner of the sort of outgoing personality that, as on this day, will hail passers-by through her open doorway, and then invite them to chat. It’s a trait that comes in handy in her position as senior community health worker/educator – and in her new position as facilitator for HealthVisions’ latest new initiative, the Empowered Adult Obesity program.

That program, and Hayes’ position in it, is less than a year old. But it fits her like a glove, because it’s a peer-education program whose success depends largely on the willingness of affiliate facilitators to buy in.

“She’s able to recruit the other people to do it,” said Renetta Williams, executive director of HealthVisions. “That’s half of the battle. She’s able to bring other people on board. … Just to hear how excited those facilitators are in delivering the program that we have given them to deliver is a reflection on her.”

The program is designed to improve the health of the minority population by promoting a more healthful lifestyle for obese adults. It largely accomplishes this by teaching how to prepare traditional foods in nontraditional ways – using herbs and spices instead of lessless-healthful alternatives. HealthVisions, as a faith-based initiative, has partnered with True Love Baptist Church, Come As You Are Community Church and Spirit of Israel Church to make that happen, as well as running a program out of HealthVisions itself.

“We recruited these leaders from the churches because people are familiar with that leader,” Williams said. “If we’d tried to do it ourselves, it would have been impossible. And it was so successful. We ended up having 65 people in the program. That, for us, is unbelievable.”

It was also a testament to Hayes’ ability to get people to rally around, even people who didn’t know her well.

It’s yet another indication for her that there were forces greater than herself at work in bringing her to HealthVisions six years ago after she’d retired from Verizon, where she spent 29 years in the engineering department.

“I got kind of bored and was looking for something to do,” said Hayes, 62. “Joan (Baines, HealthVision’s program coordinator) and I worked together at Verizon. And Joan was working here with Renetta, and I knew Renetta because her husband taught my daughter at Elmhurst, and we were friends when I went to Union (Baptist) Church.

“So it’s like one big family just came back together.”

That it was a faith-based organization was a big seller, too. Hayes grew up in a churchgoing home – she remembers attending services at Greater Progressive Baptist Church as a child, back when the Rev. Jesse White was the pastor. And now, as an adult, she’s been back at Greater Progressive for the past 11 years.

So she was on comfortable ground when she approached HealthVisions’ partner churches on behalf of the Empowered Adult Obesity program.

“You know, that’s a great part of this, because I do get to work with the churches,” she said. “When we’ve got someone from the churches that their members already knew, that seemed to work better. They already know them. They know me, but they don’t know me.”

Five minutes spent talking to her, of course, would likely take care of that. Although she’d much rather introduce you to her various programs than to herself.

“When I came here, I knew they were working with the poor and underserved seniors at the time,” Hayes said. “They were doing lots of other things, but that was a passion for me, was working with seniors. That was a position that was open, and the Lord just had me walk into that position.”

And her new position?

“This program came about at a really good time, because as African-Americans, we’re always on the top of the charts for all types of diseases,” Hayes said. “We’re always right above everyone else. And this (obesity) was another thing where … we had the highest rate.

“I thought, you know, if I can do something about it, as well as help myself, because I needed to lose weight as well.

This gave me another initiative to get in with the game.”

And it gave Williams another opportunity to use Hayes’ innate talent for turning strangers into allies for yet another good purpose.

“It’s just her enthusiasm,” Williams said when asked about what sets Hayes apart. “She has a passion for what she does. As you know, we’re a faith-based organization. And she just shows the love.”