- Picture this: You're standing in line at the grocery store. The
woman behind you catches your eye and greets you with a friendly
hello. You return the pleasantry and then she says, "We're
both women. Have you had your mammogram done? Have you had your
met a member of Community Health Advisers as Research Partners,
or CHARP. And you can thank The University of Southern Mississippi's
Center for Sustainable Health Outreach for the blessing.
In April 2000,
the National Cancer Institute awarded a total of $60 million in
grants to study ways to reduce cancer among 18 minority populations.
Southern Miss' Center for Sustainable Health Outreach, in partnership
with the University of Alabama-Birmingham, was awarded a $4 million
grant to combat cancer among minority and medically underserved
groups in Mississippi and Alabama. From that, the Deep South Network
for Cancer Control was born.
the premise that cancer awareness and education are the chief weapons
needed in combating the disease among these populations, the Deep
South Network set in motion its program to do just that. Now three
years into the study, the program has already affected a 396 percent
increase in the number of African-American and uninsured women receiving
mammograms and pap tests in the Delta and Hattiesburg-Laurel areas.
In large measure,
CHARPs can take credit for this success. The brainchild of Dr. Agnes
Hinton, co-principal investigator for the Deep South program in
Mississippi, the CHARP model has proven itself so effective that
the 17 other recipients of the National Cancer Institute's grants
have also decided to use it.
investigator for Deep South, shares the curriculum she helped develop
with other participants in the National Cancer Institute study.
Her enthusiasm for the volunteers is undeniable. "The CHARPs
are Nike-footed warriors in the fight against cancer," she
So how does
it all work? Essentially, coordinators go into the minority community
and recruit people who are naturally caring and are already respected
by their peers. These volunteers attend eight weekly sessions to
learn about cancer detection and treatment. They are taught what
outside assistance is available and are encouraged to forge partnerships
with these agencies. They are given tips on communicating their
message, and because each CHARP group is an independent entity,
they are encouraged to apply for not-for-profit status and informed
as to the grants available to them. Then, armed with knowledge,
ability and a strong sense of mission, CHARPs are sent into the
community to do their work.
Gilbert, for example. Gilbert stumbled upon the Deep South Network
two years ago while retrieving her son's impounded car from Southern
Miss' campus. Entering the office of the Center for Sustainable
Health Outreach - the place Deep South Network calls home - Gilbert
was met by Arnecca Carter, CHARPs training coordinator. Impressed
with Carter's helpfulness, the inquisitive mother of two asked about
the Deep South Network. "She [Arnecca] explained it was a federally
funded program, and they were dealing with cancer and trying to
get the word out to people," Gilbert said.
Being a giving
person herself, Gilbert was interested in the project but wasn't
sure she qualified as a CHARPs candidate. Carter told her she only
needed to be a willing, good-hearted person who could attend the
eight two-hour training meetings. Gilbert attended a meeting that
night, and the rest, as they say, is history.
it was a blessing," said Gilbert, who personally has referred
more than 50 women to the program for mammograms and pap smears.
"I'm a very caring person. I believe in cancer awareness and
trying to help educate people. It's opened doors for me in that
area, and I believe I have touched people and people have touched
of dedication and commitment is the hallmark of every CHARP. They
join the fight against cancer because they are nurturers. They care.
Living in the community they serve, they are aware of the particular
fears that confront their neighbors.
single parent raising two children, working two jobs with no other
support whatsoever," Gilbert said. "If I do have cancer,
how can I afford to take care of it? What am I going to do with
my children if something happens to me? You need someone to tell
you, 'Let's not worry about all that. The first step is to get yourself
checked.' But what if you don't have money to get checked? We've
got programs available for you. ...Deep South is always there, holding
your hand one step at a time."
CHARPs exude comes from the excellent training they receive. Training
coordinators Arnecca Carter (Hattiesburg-Laurel) and Edna Powell
(Delta region) recruit oncologists, nurses, health care professionals
and providers to share their expertise and offer support to the
volunteers. Jennifer Downey, director of communications at the Center
for Sustainable Health Outreach, fields CHARPs' requests for teaching
tools and does her best to provide them.
to meet these needs, the center has to be creative. One of the most
innovative of these teaching tools is the Awareness Necklace. Its
beads of different shapes and sizes are used in stressing the importance
of early detection in breast cancer. From tiny beads that represent
lumps found by mammograms to the largest bead representing the average
size lump found by one who gets neither mammograms nor practices
self-examination, it offers a visual tool for CHARPs to use. "Many
of our community volunteers wear their necklace every day so they
can use it as a teaching tool when talking to their friends and
neighbors about the importance of early detection," Downey
for CHARPs is a ballpoint pen that displays a different teaching
point on breast cancer each time the pen is clicked. A spiral-bound
laminated book of CHARPs notes also offers a more detailed visual
aid. "It's one way we can help to ensure that the message the
community volunteers are sharing is consistent and accurate,"
that a sense of camaraderie develops between CHARPs and the professionals
with whom they interact. That relationship can be especially beneficial
when CHARPs finds people who need immediate screening but are told
they have to wait months for an appointment. Together with the doctor
or nurse they know through Deep South training, CHARPs can cut through
the medical red tape and schedule an appointment for a much earlier
comes from a zealous sense of mission. CHARP Lillie Peterson, a
graduate of Southern Miss, gave proof of this commitment in a free
exercise program she established in her community. After talking
to women about breast and cervical cancer and the importance of
keeping fit, Lillie discovered that "we have so many people
out there who say 'Oh, if I had a place to go and exercise, I would
do it.' So from listening to that, I started this exercise program.
I found a place where we could exercise for free. The city [of Hattiesburg]
provides the place. We have free mats. We exercise by looking at
videos. I get them to come, that way I can give them information
and ask questions."
But how does
an exercise program translate into breast and cervical cancer awareness?
It's all in the sign-in procedure, Peterson explained. As people
enter their names on the sheet, Peterson or one of her cohorts tell
them that the Deep South Network co-sponsored the program. The next
question is a perfectly logical one for a CHARP: "Have you
ever had a mammogram or a pap smear?" If the answer is no,
Peterson wastes no time encouraging them to get tested. Her presentation
is as smooth as Denise Austin's abs and as effective as one of Austin's
60-minute workout sessions.
to them that so many people, basically my people, are perishing
because of the lack of knowledge," Peterson said. To date,
she estimates that she has reached more than 50 women with her cancer
awareness message. Of these, 25 percent had never had a cancer screening.
at the evening exercise classes is CHARP Marsha Dixson. Marsha and
her husband, Jerry, are pastors with the Love Joy Peace Ministries
of Petal. A former special education teacher and now a stylist at
J.C. Penney in Hattiesburg, Marsha finds constant outlets for reaching
women with the CHARP message. She estimates that in the two years
that she has been involved with the Deep South Network, she has
reached more than 300 women.
is also a volunteer in the program. Soon after signing up, Jerry
and Marsha began planning how they could use their ministry to help
in the fight against cancer. Since then, the pair has traveled throughout
the South, delivering programs of inspiration and education to the
neediest among them. From adulterous leanings to prostate screenings,
bumps in a marriage to lumps in a breast, this dynamic couple interrelates
their life giving messages bringing hope to those once forgotten.
While the above-mentioned
volunteers are among the 113 CHARPs from the Hattiesburg-Laurel
area, 343 of their fellow warriors live in the Delta. Overseeing
the efforts of those volunteers is Program Director Freddie White-Johnson.
A human dynamo that moves fast enough to be picked up on Doppler
radar, White-Johnson is totally committed to wiping out cancer within
the populations of Mississippi's minority poor. In fact, after receiving
her master's degree, White-Johnson returned home to the Delta, where
she labors tirelessly to bring the message of cancer awareness to
the African-American community. Laboring for other people's lives
will be the legacy of her future.
And the future
is what White-Johnson opens up to her CHARPs. Realizing that most
of the 85 CHARPs in a recent Sidon/Greenwood graduation class had
never even finished high school, she was determined to give them
a chance to have a graduation. Rivaling the finest of high school
ceremonies, this CHARP graduation took place at Mississippi Valley
State University and featured state Senator Alice Harden (also a
Southern Miss graduate) as guest speaker.
processed in style and sang "We Are the World" and "Lean
On Me," prophetic melodies considering their new role in the
It is this
sense of community involvement that leads White-Johnson to include
local schools in the CHARPs' efforts. After educating middle school
principals and teachers about breast and cervical cancer, White-Johnson
brought her message to 5th and 6th graders. Sitting in the gym or
the auditorium, the students are introduced to cancer and asked
if they would like to be soldiers in the fight against the disease
that claims so many poor women. She challenged the students to go
into their neighborhoods and get the names of women who have not
gotten breast exams, mammograms or pap smears. In return, students
receive incentives such as skating or pizza parties or gift cards
has proven to be a success. In Tchula, for example, the 60 students
from S.V. Marshall School who participated in the project yielded
a combined list of 380 women who needed cancer screenings. Some
names were repeats, but ultimately 117 new women were given examinations.
A similar program in the local high school brought forth 44 new
is vital. For instance, radio station WGRM provides free public
service announcements about cancer awareness three times a day.
The Kappa Alpha Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
and the Partnership for a Healthy Leflore County/Greenwood Community
and Recreation Center together sponsor a monthly two-hour call-in
radio show featuring Dr. Groesbeck Parham, an obstetrician/gynecologist/oncologist
from the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
I am playing through the radio show is merely a supplement to the
great work they [Deep South Network] are doing," Parham said.
"I'm just happy to be in a situation to be able to help my
sisters. I love them, and I love what they are doing. They are warriors."
but with the touch of an angel. That's the message on a sign above
the desk of another remarkable CHARP, Evetter Hawkins, who manages
the community Cottonwood Glen. Hawkins' office is filled with commendations
and love tokens from residents and friends, which make it obvious
that the senior citizens in this small community think of her more
like a daughter than a manager.
tunes flowing from the radio in her office sing of Hawkins' spiritual
side. Like the Dixsons, Hawkins and her husband, Frank, are evangelists
who spread the message of cancer awareness as they minister to their
congregation. Through talks, newsletters and radio broadcasts, they
reach all ages with their words of education. In the two years she
has been a CHARP, Hawkins estimates that she has reached hundreds
with her message. Since introducing the CHARP program to the Cottonwood
Glen community, 18 residents have signed up as volunteers.
One of the
most endearing recruits is Levonzel Peeples, 65, who was recently
crowned Ms. Health Awareness in her community. "Because of
the CHARP program, she [Peeples] was able to detect her own cancer.
She overcame it and she's in remission right now," Hawkins
for her CHARP group, Peeples said she believes what she learned
as a volunteer saved her life. "One night I was laying in bed
and my arm fell down on my breast, and it kind of stung a little.
I ran in the bathroom to the mirror and I kept rubbing and I felt
a small lump. I called the doctor, and he saw me the next day. He
thought it was cancer, so he sent me to a [cancer] doctor. He saw
me the same day. Two days later he did the surgery."
things moved so fast is because Evetter played a major role being
able to speak and articulate what had taken place. She goes on the
phone and explains that this woman is 65 years old, and we need
to try to get her in. If you put her on the backburner she could
to the bond that develops among the CHARPs, Peeples looks over to
her friend kneeling at her side. "Evetter is my right hand,"
she said. "You can tell her anything, and she'll try her best
to do it. When I was so weak, she came and cleaned, mopped and everything.
I thank God for her."
The love in
the room is almost palpable as all eyes watch Peeples get up from
her chair and walk to the door. With the Ms. Health Awareness tiara
atop her pretty newly grown hair, she turned and smiled. Levonzel
Peeples is ready to face the world - another Nike-footed warrior.