Efforts to Rebuild Minds and Bodies of New Orleans Residents Move Forward

Efforts to rebuild the minds and bodies of New Orleans residents surge forward.

Go1 308 To this day, much of New Orleans remains in shambles following Hurricane Katrina's landfall two-and-a-half years ago. But efforts to rebuild the minds and bodies of city residents surge forward.

The New Orleans Recreation Department capped a successful 2007 during which it partnered with numerous corporate, nonprofit and volunteer organizations to rebuild and reopen 40 playgrounds, four recreation centers and five stadiums. In December, the NORD All Star Bowl youth football game reunited players and coaches, some of whom had been separated since the hurricane struck in August 2005. This year, members of the Asheboro, N.C.-based Association of Happiness for All Mankind - who spent months in the city in 2005 and 2006 offering meditation training to rescue workers, counselors and displaced victims - hope to return to further their efforts in the recovery. And, in a ranking that must have boosted the spirits of New Orleans' economic-development leaders, the Crescent City finished 12th in bizjournal.com's recent evaluation of fun potential in the nation's 50 largest markets, ahead of destination points such as Denver and Las Vegas.

Still, one doesn't have to hail from the Gulf Coast region to recognize the ongoing plight of residents there. Personal trainer Cleon Joseph - better known simply as CJ, of Los Angeles-based CJ's Functional Fitness & Self Defense - recently asked his peers to join him in providing fitness and wellness opportunities for Katrina's victims in New Orleans. "I've been rattling my brain to find ways to help them, and now I've got it," Joseph posted on his blog (myspace.com/cjsff) in December, revealing plans to offer a week's worth of free training, fitness advice and wellness counseling. "I would like assistance from trainers from all over the country. I am also looking for sponsors who will help with this cause."

Joseph says he was stirred to action by media reports that many Katrina survivors still suffer from serious mental and physical health issues. "I deal with survivors on a day-to-day basis," he says, referring to a client base that includes victims of heart attacks and other life-threatening conditions. "If I can do my part in helping the people of New Orleans to get back to a state of wellness, then let me do it."

He plans to contact health clubs, high schools, colleges and other organizations with athletic and fitness facilities to inquire about availability and their willingness to participate in the endeavor. "Can you imagine coordinating and sending trainers, in teams, to multiple locations all over New Orleans?" Joseph asks. "It's about giving survivors the star treatment."

In Biloxi, Miss., more than 40 area medical professionals have teamed up to help that segment of the battered region rebound more quickly. The 140,000-square-foot e-Fitness & Wellness Center, which suffered building delays common to projects along the post-Katrina Gulf Coast, celebrated its grand opening in January and boasts almost 100 pieces of cardiovascular-fitness equipment, racquetball courts, an indoor running track and an outdoor competition pool. "This is the first time doctors can buy stock in a wellness center and get a dividend for helping their own community take charge of its health," David McAfee, founder, president and medical director of the facility, told Biloxi's Sun Herald newspaper. "It's about the Coast setting an example of enlightened health care for the rest of the nation. We're finally stepping up to the plate. This could become a national model."

Joseph is determined to become a model, too, by contributing to the physical (and, he hopes, emotional) reconditioning of those New Orleanians still reeling from Katrina. "Recovering does not mean recovered," he says. "I'm still hearing stories of hopelessness. Oh, yes, this task is monumental, and so far it is very grassroots. But the dream is to be able to do this every year until we see a change in the well-being of survivors. I want people in that area to know that we in the fitness industry have not forgotten them. They have survived something that not many of us can relate to. We owe it to them."

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