We Can!® County: Berrien County, MI

Lakeland Regional Health System

"After exploring many different programs and ideas, the NIH We Can! program was the most inexpensive, viable, and far-reaching solution."
—Pamela Kurtz, outpatient dietitian and leader, We Can! Healthy Berrien


On the southern shores of Lake Michigan, Berrien County was swept up in the national wave of We Can! enthusiasm in June 2008 when it became an official We Can! County. It’s been rolling forward with diverse We Can!-based programs ever since. Programming includes a heavy emphasis on walking. In fact, Berrien wrapped up 2008 with a children’s walk to visit Santa Claus at the North Pole. Of course, the walk took them to see a mall Santa, indoors.

"We had a good turnout, probably because we held it indoors," said Pamela Kurtz, local We Can! leader and outpatient dietitian at Lakeland Regional Health System, "Having Santa announce that you had arrived at the North Pole was also a treat." Walk to the North Pole at The Orchards Mall in Benton Harbor is an example of the types of events Lakeland Regional Health System has created with community partners to further the We Can! agenda.


In this photo, Melissa McGowan of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases presents the We Can! County sign to Richard Bartz, Chairman, Berrien County Commissioners, and Theresa Green, Director Community Health Planning, Berrien County Health Department.

Click on the following quick links to see details:

Key Successes

A We Can! Intensive Community Site since 2008, the Lakeland Regional Health System was asked by the Healthy Berrien Consortium (a collaboration of leaders representing local health care organizations) to spearhead its campaign to prevent childhood weight problems in the county.

Lakeland’s active leadership has led to enthusiastic buy-in from a number of key partners across the county. It started with a stakeholders meeting in October 2007, where presenters gained community support for implementing We Can! programming by outlining local challenges and how the We Can! movement could assist in addressing them.

In May 2008, a We Can! summit helped to kick off We Can! Healthy Berrien with the participation of over fifty partners, including county agencies and private companies.

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Physical activity ranks high on We Can! Healthy Berrien’s list. The group excels at actively facilitating and attracting participants to a number of community events that include ways to become more active, such as:

  • Walks with seasonal and other themes. Successful outings include a “Step"tember Walk, the Walk to Beijing, and the Walk to the North Pole. More details can be found below.
  • We Can! Be Healthy Classes. Based on the six-week We Can! Energize Our Families Parent Program, these classes at the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph YMCA Family Center cater to both parents and children. Kids get physically active, make healthy snacks, and get nutrition lessons taught by dietitians and chefs. Parents discuss ways to keep up the momentum at home.
  • Plans to connect Benton Harbor’s walking trails. Thanks to a $60,000 Healthy Communities Grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, We Can! Healthy Berrien is taking the walking theme one step further by making walking trails in the county’s largest city more fluid. They anticipate that this will make them attractive to would-be walkers, motivating more county residents to get physical. The planning phase kicked off in December 2008.

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Partners of Healthy Berrien’s We Can! programming include local senior centers, supermarkets, pediatricians, and the following:

  • Andrews University
  • Boys & Girls Clubs
  • Southwestern Michigan College
  • United Way
  • Whirlpool Corporation
  • YMCA

Among other contributions, partners provide space for and promotion of classes and events, offer their time and expertise for classes, and assist with the recruitment of participants.

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Outreach & Events

  • A Walk to Beijing, during the summer Olympics in August 2008, encouraged people to walk the distance equivalent to that between Michigan and Beijing, China, and back—6,678 miles. Not only did some 1,000 Lakeland employees participate in the challenge—they walked three times the mileage.
  • A Walk to the North Pole in December 2008 at The Orchards Mall didn’t cover as many miles, but generated many smiles when some 50 walkers of all ages, from 15 local groups, heard Santa proclaim their arrival at the North Pole.
  • Preaching the gospel of healthy eating and increased physical activity is what We Can! Healthy Berrien does during frequent presentations to local churches and schools. One interesting component of the interactive presentations to students is the inclusion of a dietitian (or local university student soon to be degreed in that specialty) who enlightens students about the limited nutritional value of fast food.
  • On your mark… get set… go! The first We Can! Healthy Berrien Youth Triathlon, in partnership with the Berrien County Intermediate School District, was scheduled for May 2009. Happy trails, indeed.
  • Other future plans include creation of a We Can! Healthy Berrien website that will give residents information on local walks, runs, and bike routes and more places to exercise in the area. Local partners will host links of their websites as well, to further spread the word about We Can! Healthy Berrien events.
  • In partnership with their local children’s museum, organizers of We Can! Healthy Berrien also plan to develop a permanent interactive display to help kids make better choices in exercise and eating. Stay tuned for updates on these exciting initiatives!

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Contact Information

For more information on Berrien County’s We Can! platform, please send a letter to:

Lakeland Regional Health System
Center for Outpatient Services
3900 Hollywood Road
St Joseph, MI 49085

For additional contact information, send an email to nhlbiinfo@nhlbi.nih.gov.

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Last Updated: February 13, 2013