Eatonville celebrates opening of new health facility

A new health center opened to help reverse an alarming trend in Eatonville.

A new health center opened to help reverse an alarming trend in Eatonville.

Tim Freed

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Eatonville residents found new hope and realized a dream more than a year in the making Saturday as Healthy Central Florida, Florida Hospital and the Winter Park Health Foundation opened Healthy Eatonville Place – a new facility addressing the town’s startling diabetic population.

The center – located off of College Avenue – offers healthy cooking classes, diabetes education and healthy living programs at little to no cost, giving local residents a new outlet to help them get healthy while teaching a younger generation to do the same.

It all came about from a study in March 2013 sponsored by Healthy Central Florida, a local health-awareness organization. Research by the University of Central Florida found staggering numbers in the small Central Florida town: 24 percent of the population had diabetes, 46 percent had been diagnosed with high blood pressure and two-thirds of Eatonville residents were overweight or obese.

A dangerous issue that Healthy Central Florida had noticed earlier was far worse than they had expected. The community’s dire need for a healthy change made the center’s grand opening this week all the more reason to celebrate.

Learn more about Healthy Eatonville Place in person by stopping by 100 E. Kennedy Blvd. or online at

Dozens of residents gathered outside the new building, waiting to step inside for the first time and start getting healthy.

“Eatonville, we are on the move,” Eatonville Mayor Bruce Mount said before a cheering audience.

Neighboring cities and more than 20 organizations came together to make Healthy Eatonville Place possible, joining forces to construct the building and provide health services.

“We’re all working together and we’re all working hard to make all of our cities healthier in any way we can,” Maitland Mayor Howard Schieferdecker said.

“You just couldn’t believe how bad that was and everybody just jumped on it. They just saw the need and filled the need.”

Healthy cooking classes at the new facility involve an eight-week series where residents are given recipe cards for healthy meals. The students learn to cook each dish in class and receive ingredients to take home so they can try it on their own.

The cooking goes hand-in-hand with the center’s diabetes education program, which focuses on survival skills, nutrition, exercise and medications.

All the services at Healthy Eatonville Place were requested by a board of current and former Eatonville residents, talking back-and-forth with Healthy Central Florida about what their community needed most.

The center hopes to prevent diabetes through research as well. Blood tests along with questionnaires based on each patient’s lifestyle, line of work and eating habits will hopefully lead to more answers, said Dr. Richard Pratley of Florida Hospital. Answers explaining why the disease has grown to nearly triple the national average in Eatonville.

“We’re hopeful that this information might give us some clues about things that increase the risk in this community that we can then use to design programs,” Pratley said. “It’s all about prevention, but we’ve got to figure out ‘why’ to address the ‘how.’”

“I don’t think that we can wait until we find out that we got diabetes,” Mount said. “It’s called prevention…You’ve got to be early.”

But Healthy Eatonville Place isn’t the only recent healthy addition to the town. A new gym was placed inside the local Hungerford Prep School last April, complete with treadmills, elliptical trainers and stationary bikes donated by the RDV Sportsplex.

Jill Hamilton Buss, executive director of Healthy Central Florida, said that more help is to come in the town of Eatonville. Diabetes often ties in to other health problems involving vision, dental and podiatry, requiring attention of their own, she said.

“Somebody was here yesterday and said ‘Are you going to have dental?’” Hamilton Buss said. “It was something we had talked about, but he just kept talking about how much he was having trouble eating certain healthier foods with bad teeth.”

“The community is really going to shape the next phases as they come in and get cared for and talk.”

Mount said that Eatonville won’t stop pressing on toward its ultimate goal of health and fitness.

“This is going to be a big boost for the community,” Mount said.

“We’re striving to be the healthiest community in America.”

Eatonville residents can now register for programs and classes at Healthy Eatonville Place.