Area organizations provide program designed to help participants with developmental disabilities practice healthy habits, achieve personal goals

A new area partnership has opened the door to a healthier life for six graduates of the first “Health Matters” class in Hannibal — a program designed to provide exercise, healthy eating and other education to individuals with developmental disabilities.

Co-instructors Cory Combs, with Clarity Healthcare, and Kathy Butler, with Marion County Services for the Developmentally Disabled (MCSDD), commended each of the graduates for their dedication and positive attitudes during the 18-week program. Combs and Director of Clarity Healthcare’s Live Healthy Pilot Program Director Debra Walkup took turns presenting each graduate with a framed certificate celebrating their achievements. Combs said the grant-funded program was successful through the combined efforts of support staff members, representatives from Clarity Healthcare, MCSDD, the Hannibal YMCA and the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) — who provided a curriculum of exercise, cooking classes, goal-setting and other activities specifically designed to benefit adults with developmental disabilities.

Combs said the Live Healthy program received a grant for healthcare services, which was joined by a grant from UMKC for the Health Matters class. Each graduate smiled as they received their certificates, sharing the specific benefits they gleaned with their classmates. Walkup asked each person about the goals they had set, pointing out that they can move forward with new goals in the future.

Combs asked graduate Laura Fierce about how she felt and what path she would take moving forward. She smiled as she recounted the benefits the “Health Matters” class provided her.

“I feel good because I’m losing weight,” she said. “I feel healthy.” Fellow graduates shared their goals and successful moments, too.

Mike DeGaro won a three-month YMCA membership, and he said enjoyed exercising by walking and using the hula hoops. He plans to continue to focus on strengthening his leg and building upon what he learned in the class.

“I’m glad I accomplished something,” he said.

Denny McAfee said he works out each week at the YMCA to “lose weight and “get strong.”

“I like to eat healthy and exercise,” he said.

Fellow graduates Mary Gupton and Amanda Sanders reflected on what they learned and how they would continue to practice healthy habits — like Sanders walking her dog. Garrett Lawrence said the team atmosphere made the experience impactful in class and at home.

“Just being around friends, it helps the motivation... we do better when we are in a group,” he said. “We work out better, we listen about how to eat better as a group.”

As he joined in celebrating the first graduating class for Health Matters, Combs said he was eager for the second class of nine students set to begin in a couple weeks. He commended the efforts of the students and support staff members, pointing out that everyone learned something along the way.

“It’s been super, and I think the individuals got a lot out of it,” Combs said.

For more information about the Health Matters program, contact Butler with MCSDD at 573-248-1077 or Combs with Clarity Healthcare at 573-603-1460 extension 2122.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at