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Fourth Annual Journey to Wellness Community Education Day

Dion Begay (far center) teaches everyone stretches they could do at home with any stick they can find.

On November 14, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Diabetes Prevention Services hosted the fourth annual Journey to Wellness Community Education Day at the Salt River Community Building. Because November is Diabetes Awareness Month, the event always takes place around this time of year. The theme for 2019 was “Mindful Living.”

“This this the fourth year we’ve offered the Journey to Wellness event for Diabetes Awareness Month,” said Elissa Caston, Diabetes Program supervisor. “We like showcasing our [own] program and staff, [but] these events [give us] an opportunity to bring in guest speakers to present on special topic areas.”

The morning started with participant check-in, a light breakfast of bagels and coffee, and a recipe box decorating activity.

The first guest presenter was chef Maria Parra Cano of Sana Sana Foods, a plant-based food company with the goal of healing communities that suffer from hypertension and diabetes. The company educates community groups about ancestral/traditional foods by hosting cooking classes, workshops and demonstrations, and providing catering. Sana Sana only uses products grown in the Valley.

Speaking on the topic of incorporating ancestral foods into the diet, Cano discussed family remedies and how indigenous foods can be used as medicine to help manage diabetes and hypertension. She shared her personal struggle with diabetes and how it affected her family. “I hope we are able to heal everyone from this disease,” she said. She credited her belief in eating foods that the ancestors ate and using remedies they once used in helping her become healthy again.

Cano provided a morning snack and demonstrated how to make quinoa con leche. Participants also put together their own “ancient granola” mix, consisting of popped amaranth, sunflower seeds, quinoa, chia seeds, berries, almonds and walnuts. The mix is a healthy way to start the day with protein and carbohydrates. The “make and take” project at the end of day included black beans, pinto beans, purple hominy corn and seasonings. Participants took home the recipes for the meals they got to enjoy.

Next, Dion Begay of the SRPMIC Diabetes Prevention Program led participants in several mobility drills. The purpose of the drills was to teach some simple stretches using household items like a broom, mop or length of plastic PVC pipe.

“I hope everyone finds this very educational and starts doing this daily,” said Begay. The different movements take a minute at most to do. He emphasized the importance of maintaining flexibility in the joints, because “when we don’t stretch, our muscles become shortened and tight.”

Wellness educator Stephanie Kreun with Simply Healthy Nutrition discussed nutrition and mindful eating. “It’s all about being cautious and being aware of what and when you are eating,” said Kreun. She explained the difference between mindful and mindless eating and talked about the benefits of eating and chewing your food slowly. She recommended chewing each bite at least 15 times before swallowing.

As an example of mindful eating, Kreun passed out raisins and cranberries. She asked the participants to take a minute to feel the item with their fingers, then put it in their mouth and think about the texture, smell, taste and sound.

“This is something you can do at home with your meals. Let a dialog start happening for one meal to bring the family together,” said Kreun.

The rest of the day was filled with more exercise tips and raffle prize drawings.

Caston noted that this was the fourth year that the event offered a plant-based lunch. “I wanted participants to experience a meal that didn’t include meat [but] is still filling and delicious. In our area of work, we always hear about people not eating enough vegetables. These meals offer some new ideas for how to prepare and cook vegetables.”

The Diabetes Program recently presented an assembly at Salt River Schools and brought in three guest speakers to talk with the students about their journey to wellness and share what they are passionate about.

“We also offered a Family Night event at Salt River High School. Our guest speakers talked about how to have the tough conversations with your teens on substance abuse, mental health and suicide prevention,” said Caston.

“I love that we get the opportunity to teach folks about their health and wellness. Everyone is on their own journey to wellness. It’s important for people to feel supported on this journey. It’s not easy, but if we learn from each other and support each other, we can reach our goals,” said Caston. She extended a big thank-you and shout out to FitnessFest for helping with all the events.

Diabetes Prevention Services offers health education classes, cooking sessions, group exercise classes and more. The team is ready to offer information, answer questions and help you get started on your wellness journey. Reach out to them at (480) 362-7320 or at