Circles of concern, cycles of caring
by Susan King
Stephanie West, an associate professor in the Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science, has supervised so many students in service-learning projects in the High Country that there are probably very few residents who haven't been affected by at least one of them.
Wilson's and West's work connects students to area nonprofit agencies and in the process, helps change lives.
In West's recreation management programming class, students learn how to establish a program based on goals and objectives. Working with Wilson, they apply this knowledge to plan, promote, implement and evaluate a 5K run/walk.
According to West and Wilson, the student success rate in their class-based projects is exceptionally high.
For more than 15 years, student service-learning projects through HLES and HPFS have forged partnerships between the university and the community with the Special Olympics, Project on Aging, Mountain Alliance, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Upward Bound, Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir, Senior Games, Blowing Rock PTA and numerous other organizations.
Wilson and West have supervised student-organized 5Ks for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America and Appalachian's Recreation Management Scholarship. Particularly meaningful for both women, however, is the annual Tom Moore 5K to benefit finding a cure for Huntington's disease.
"We met Tom, his wife, Jennifer, and their children, Casey and Tyler, at the United Church of Christ in Boone. Tom is the face of our 5K for Huntington's Disease," Wilson said.
Moore is a well-known local minister and the former director of Resort Area Ministries, an interdenominational organization that sponsors community outreach endeavors such as RAM's Rack, a local resale shop.
In 2003, Moore was the second member of his family to be diagnosed with HD, a degenerative brain disorder that causes progressive deterioration of motor and cognitive abilities. Symptoms such as involuntary movement, diminished balance and slurred speech are sometimes mischaracterized as the results of drug or alcohol use.
HD is hereditary. Moore's father died of the disease after a 20-year battle, and since 2003, five uncles and aunts have also been diagnosed. There's a 50 percent chance the disease will be passed from parent to child. However, children who do not inherit the HD gene will never develop the disease nor pass it on to their own children.
"Each semester the students working on the TM5K project meet Tom and Jennifer for a question-and-answer session. The Moores discuss their family's history with the disease, how the condition affects their lives, medical breakthroughs in the last seven years, and clinical studies that Tom has been involved with to help find a cure," Wilson said.
"When possible, Tom speaks to the 5K participants, shares his story and thanks everyone for coming out," she said.
"Meeting Tom and Jennifer and researching HD gives these students a better understanding of the disease, reinforcing the importance of their efforts," West said. "This isn't just a college classroom assignment, it is a 'real-life,' hands-on experience. Reaching out to the community makes a difference, not only to Tom, but to many other family members, friends and patients who are affected by the disease."
The impact of the TM5K extends far beyond the High Country. In the last seven years, despite inclement weather in all but one race, the TM5K has raised about $50,000 for research. A local HD support group has been established. Families from Wilkesboro, Mount Airy and Raleigh have contacted Wilson and West to see how they can become involved. And, in addition to providing T-shirts for TM5K participants at no charge to the organizers, the Huntington's Disease Society of America now checks in with Wilson and West every year to make sure the TM5K is on the official Huntington's website calendar.
Wilson was hired at HPFS as exercise coordinator in 2003 and became director in 2005. HPFS promotes a healthy lifestyle and a better quality of life for the Appalachian State University employees, 85 percent of whom participated in HPFS programs and services in 2011-12.
Wilson's profession is her passion. She said, "I've been involved in sports and fitness education since I can remember. A part-time job in the recreation department during college paved the way for me to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in health science and corporate wellness and then to enjoy professional experiences as a junior college health instructor and fitness consultant. It's all led me to where I am today -- Health Promotion for Faculty and Staff at Appalachian."
Wilson earned a bachelor's degree at Georgia Southern University and a master's degree at Texas A&M.Originally, West had dreams of becoming a veterinarian, but her course took an unexpected turn.
"I realized the value of recreation when I thought about why I sat on the bench in high school volleyball and soccer. I didn't play for the love of the sport or because I was driven to be competitive. I enjoyed being on a team, improving skills and spending time with friends. I stumbled upon teaching when I substituted for a professor while I was in graduate school, where my goal was working in campus recreation. I fell in love with teaching on that first day in the classroom. I enjoyed watching students realize that recreation isn't just something we just do when we have time. We plan for it and save for it. We build our lives around what we love to do," West said.
West has a bachelor's degree from Auburn University, a master's degree from Georgia Southern and a doctorate from Texas A&M in recreation administration.
To learn more about Huntington's disease, visit http://www.hdsa.org/.