Sheet pan with roasted veggies

For individuals with diabetes, reducing your carbohydrate intake and managing your blood sugar levels are vitally important. But what healthy meals are out there that are also delicious? For National Diabetes Month, we’ve got three sheet pan meals that are easy to make, packed with flavor and contain well-balanced portions – a key component to keeping a healthy blood sugar level.

“Lifestyle modifications like eating consistent meals throughout the day and having a balanced plate can help manage blood sugar,” says Lacey Gammon, NCHPAD Nutrition Coordinator. “A balanced plate contains half non-starchy vegetables, a quarter lean protein and a quarter whole grains or starchy vegetables.”

Each of the following recipes contains a balanced plate, including healthy carbohydrates, fats and protein. “When managing blood sugar, it’s important to choose carbohydrates that are fiber-rich, like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, peas and beans,” says Gammon. “Pair carbohydrates with a protein and healthy fat to slow digestion and prevent high spikes in blood sugar.”

All three recipes are also perfect for meal prepping, so try them out – and save the leftovers for later in the week!

Watch the video and check out the ingredients & instructions for each recipe below.

1) Chipotle Chicken, Veggies, & Brown Rice | Ingredients & Instructions

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 medium lime, halved, divided
  • 2 large sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds total), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 can of chipotles in adobo
  • Cooked brown rice, for serving
  • 1.5 cup broccoli
  • 1.5 cup sugar snap peas
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Place the juice from the chipotle chiles, adobo sauce, garlic, oil, honey, cumin, juice of half a lime, and salt in a bowl and stir until smooth.
  2. Place the chicken, sweet potato, and red onion in a large zip-top bag and pour in the marinade. Seal the bag and shake to evenly coat everything in the marinade. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
  3. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 425°F.
  4. Place the chicken and the vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until the chicken registers 165°F in the thickest part of the meat not touching bone and the vegetables are tender and lightly caramelized, 30 to 35 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven, squeeze the remaining lime half over the chicken and vegetables, and let cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve over rice.

2) Lemony Salmon, Asparagus, and Carrots | Ingredients & Instructions

  • 4 (6-oz.) skin-on salmon fillets
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice, for serving
  • ¼ cup low-fat, non-flavored yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  • 1 ½ teaspoons lemon zest (from 1 lemon), divided
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • ¾ teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • ¼ cup panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and halved crosswise
  • 1 (8-oz.) pkg. small carrots with tops, cut lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Lemon wedges
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place salmon, skin side down, on half of prepared baking sheet. Stir together yogurt, mustard, dill, 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper in a medium bowl. Spread over salmon fillets in an even layer; top with panko, and press lightly to adhere. Spray with cooking spray.
  2. Toss together asparagus, carrots, olive oil, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon each of lemon zest, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Place vegetables on empty side of baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until salmon is cooked through and vegetables are tender, about 18 minutes. Serve with brown rice and lemon wedges.

3) Southwestern Sweet Potato & Black Bean Bowl | Ingredients & Instructions

  • 1 cup microwavable brown rice
  • 2 cans chickpeas
  • 2 cups broccoli
  • 3 cups sweet potatoes, chopped into 1” pieces
  • ½ red onion, chopped into 1” pieces
  • 1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained, rinsed and towel-dried
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Optional toppings:

  • Sauce: honey-chipotle or honey-dijon from previous recipes
  • Avocado
  • Salsa
  • Hot sauce
  • Cilantro
  • Lime juice
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cook the rice according to package directions
  3. Combine the broccoli, sweet potato, red onion, chickpeas, black beans, olive oil and spices in a large mixing bowl. Gently toss together until evenly coated.
  4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
  5. To serve: place the roasted sweet potatoes and beans over a bed of brown rice. Top with any of the optional toppings. Enjoy!
Kalani Upshaw

For this week’s staff spotlight, we caught up with Kalani Upshaw, one of our Community Health Educators. Kalani shared her favorite NCHPAD resources, what brought here to NCHPAD and the work she does to develop GROWTH, our mental wellness program.

Tell us about your background & education. What brought you to NCHPAD?

I have a Bachelor of Science in human environmental science and a Master of Public Health in global health. I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA where my work focused on mental health promotion. I wanted to continue serving others and promoting mental health, so I joined NCHPAD as a Community Health Educator about a year and a half ago.

What program or programs do you work with?

I’m working to develop our mental wellness program called GROWTH, which stands for Growing Resilience Out of Wellness and Thoughtful Habits.

What do you do?

In addition to my work on GROWTH, I’m a Community Health Educator – I go out into the community for outreach and engagement.  

What talents or expertise do you bring to NCHPAD or this program?

I have personal experience in the mental health field and have worked in this area for three years.

What is your favorite thing about NCHPAD or GROWTH?

My favorite thing about NCHPAD is the sense of community that it provides for those living with disabilities.

What’s your favorite NCHPAD resource or video series?

My favorite NCHPAD resource is the Mindfulness Meditation series provided on the NCHPAD YouTube channel.

What are you most looking forward to in this program?

I’m looking forward to hearing stories from our participants and strategies for how they self-manage their mental health and well-being. I also look forward to helping participants find new ways to cope with daily life stressors and prevent early signs of mental distress. 

Share a success story. Tell us about a time when you really saw your program working in the life of a participant.

One of our participants shared that they had little knowledge about mental health, so seeing them learn and ask questions throughout the program really showed how the program was working in the life of this participant.

What hobbies do you have outside of work?

I enjoy traveling, swimming, yoga and trying new things.

What’s your favorite food, favorite thing to cook or favorite recipe?

My favorite food is curry and rice.

What’s your favorite music, movies or tv shows?

I really enjoy watching action/adventure movies.

What’s the last book you read? How was it?

The last book I read was Essentials of Biostatistics in Public Health. It was for my master’s degree.

Who or what inspires you?

What inspires me the most is a drive to become the best at what I do.

If you could switch careers for a day, what would you choose?

I would spend the day working as a physician.

What’s one thing (not related to your job) that you could teach someone else how to do?

I could teach someone else how to swim.


Written by Sydney Colligan, UAB Dietitic Intern

Fall season has arrived, so you know what that means: all things pumpkin! Often thought of as a vegetable, pumpkin is actually a fruit that is full of nutrients and health benefits. Because of pumpkin’s rich antioxidant content, it can also reduce inflammation – especially important for individuals with disabilities.

Whether it’s fresh or canned, pumpkin is an amazing addition to your diet. Try the recipe below to reap all the health benefits pumpkin has to offer!

Fall in a Bowl Smoothie


  1. ¼ cup pumpkin purée, frozen
  2. ¼ cup vanilla Greek yogurt, frozen
  3. 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  4. 1 tablespoon almond butter
  5. 1 banana, frozen
  6. ½ cup almond milk, more as needed


  1. Add all ingredients to a high-speed blender and blend until a creamy consistency forms.
  2. Pour into a glass and enjoy!

Want even more pumpkin? Try our savory and delicious pumpkin ravioli with sage brown butter sauce.

Lynn Julian

In this week’s Participant Spotlight, we chatted with Lynn Julian. Lynn shared how she connected with NCHPAD, her favorite programs, and some of the amazing work she’s doing as a patient experience consultant!

Tell us about yourself.

I’m proud to be an award-winning speaker and patient consultant, an author in nine books and of 100+ articles (, a Boston Actress at ( and a Pop Superhero on 30+ CDs ( Connect with me on social media @LynnJulian007!

I’m also a patient experience consultant with corporations, foundations, researchers, politicians, and international leaders to form an accurate understanding of chronic illness, rare disease, and life with disability.

I live in Boston, Massachusetts, with my medical alert service dog, Dr. Smallz, and I love to connect with people on social at @lynnjulian007 @DrSmallzMD!

When did you connect with NCHPAD? 

I was referred to NCHPAD by Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where I completed some of my physical, vestibular, and occupational therapy as an injured survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

What NCHPAD programs have you been part of?

So far, I’ve benefited from completing the MENTOR program and still enjoy participating in Coffee Club!

What did you like about the programs? 

I love that the MENTOR program addresses all aspects of good health: mindfulness, exercise, nutrition, and resilience. It was a sweet surprise when a huge box of home exercise equipment arrived at my door – for me to keep – and all for free. Money is not an excuse not to exercise when the equipment is free!

Tell us why you would recommend a NCHPAD program or NCHPAD Connect to someone else.

I’d highly recommend NCHPAD Connect to my family, friends, and support group members because I’ve personally benefited so much from their programs already.

What brings you joy?

It’s the simple things in life that bring me joy: friends, food, music, movies, art, and most of all, my medical alert service dog, Dr. Smallz.

Too often, we take our blessings for granted as if they are rights rather than privileges. We complain so easily but are less quick to complement. We need to celebrate the small stuff and always be grateful. That is the way to happiness!

What else would you like us to know? 

In addition to my other work, in my “free time,” I’m also an advocate, activist, ambassador, speaker, and consultant. My daily struggles with chronic conditions lead me to volunteer as an Advisory Board Member of several international organizations: Strength To Strength (Patient Advisory Council), US Pain Foundation (Massachusetts Ambassador), American Migraine Foundation (Ambassador), Wego Health (Migraine Expert), Alliance for  Headache Disorders Advocacy (Team Leader, Headache On The Hill); Marfan Foundation, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (Ambassador/Moderator), Rare Disease Legislative Advocate (Everylife Foundation), Rare Complain Program (Global Genes), Leaftopia (Director of Patient Advocacy), and Ravel.Health & Center For Lyme Action (Ambassador/Team Leader). The main message I want to promote is one of Inspiration and Hope.

How has this impacted your life? Is there anything you’ve learned from NCHPAD that has impacted your life?

Coffee Club has taught me that it’s never too late to change yourself, your mind, and your body. Every day is a new chance to do better and be the change you wish to see in the world!

Is there a particular person you’d like to give a shoutout, like an instructor, health coach, etc?

Haley Brown brightened every morning in the MENTOR program with her spirited energy and encouragement. She had me – and the whole group – looking forward to exercising. Now THAT is a great mentor!

Stephanie Ward also does an exceptional job leading Coffee Club. She wakes us up gently, makes us all feel seen and heard, and even sings to us to start our day. Love that smile!

Stirring ingredients to make delicious soups, sauces and healthy meals can be easy with these tools and tips!

These universal tips and tools support safe and accessible food preparation while you are stirring in the kitchen. Watch the video below or keep reading to learn more:

  1. Accessible kitchen levels. Try to bring your bowl to a lower level. You could use a lower table or even your lap!
  2. Bowl stabilizer. A bowl stabilizer can go under any bowl to make it nonslip. Place the tool under the bowl to keep it steady while stirring.
  3. Automatic stirrer. Place an automatic stirrer in a pan or a pot and turn it on. It will be begin to automatically rotate!
  4. Hand mixer. A hand mixer, which is a hand-held blender with attachments, is optimized to whisk, mince, and in this case, shred!
  5. Immersion blender. An immersion blender can be used to whisk eggs, mix pancakes, or even puree soup! The head is interchangeable with attachments that can purée.
MENTOR Equipment

MENTOR is our 8-week program focused on physical, mental and emotional health for individuals with a mobility limitation or physical disability.

Our programs and resources are always free, and as part of MENTOR, we also send ALL participants a FREE box of exercise equipment and other wellness goodies.

But you might be wondering what you get – and how it all works. Watch the video below to see the equipment we’re sending to MENTOR participants and learn how the equipment could be used below.


MENTOR Tote Bag- Whether you want to carry around some of your MENTOR equipment, supplies or something else, the MENTOR tote bag has you covered! It has three pockets: a zippered section, an open pocket at the front and a mesh pocket great for holding your MENTOR water bottle.

MENTOR Water Bottle– Stay hydrated during your MENTOR classes with your 24 oz. water bottle. The handle on the lid makes it easy to carry, and the flip cap allows for accessibility to your favorite beverage as you open and close the top.

MENTOR Journal and Pen– Keep track of your wellness journey or track and document your progress with our journal and pen.

Stability Disc– The stability disc is a round cushion filled with air that will be used to help you stretch and train your core and balance. The stability disc is a great tool for practicing muscle and brain coordination.

Sliders– Sliders are round disks that have one smooth side and one side with cushioned foam. You’ll put your hands or feet on the foam part in certain mobility and strength exercises.

TheraBands– These bands are like large rubber bands with different levels of resistance based on the color of the band. There are five different levels of resistance, starting at very low (green) and going up to very heavy (black). As you move through the program, you’ll progress to higher levels of resistance!

Wrist Weights– These Velcro wrist weights will help you get stronger through specific exercises our experts will guide you through.

Racquetballs– Hand-eye coordination and dexterity can be hard to practice without the right tools. Throughout your exercise sessions, you’ll bounce your racquetballs against the wall or on the ground to turn some exercises into a game!

Yoga Ball– Once your yoga ball is inflated, you can use it to help build your balance, core strength and even work on flexibility.

Resistance Bands with Handles– These bands can be anchored to a doorway to add another option to resistance training and strength building different from TheraBands.

MENTOR Yoga Block– Our MENTOR Yoga Block is made of a comfortable foam that can help you during your warm-up or after an exercise session. On the back of the block there are some suggested poses, but there are many other good examples and uses for the yoga block.

MENTOR Yoga Mat- The yoga mat adds some cushion to your exercises. Coming in a mesh zippered bag, the mat is easy to transport and store.

Peddler– Similar to peddles on a bike, the peddler has two stirrups where you can put your feet or hands. As you push the peddle down and around, the digital monitor will show stats like the number of rotations, your total time and calories burned.

Ready to join MENTOR? Have questions?

Give us a call at 866-866-8896 or email us at

Woman eating watermelon

You probably hear the terms inflammation and anti-inflammatory thrown around a lot, but what does inflammation mean – and how can it be managed or even prevented?

Inflammation is the immune system’s response to injury or irritation. There are two different types of inflammation:

  1. Acute inflammation. Examples include joint pain, headache, wounds, sore throat, ingrown nails and skin irritation.
  2. Chronic inflammation. Examples include disability, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and bowel disease.

Our bodies have a natural inflammatory response, which is our body’s way of protecting itself from illness and infection by producing more white blood cells. SOME inflammation is a good thing.

Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is at the root of several illnesses such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

On the bright side, inflammation can be controlled through healthy lifestyle behaviors including the following:

  • Healthy eating
  • Moving more
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Limiting alcohol intake
  • Resting
  • Taking medications as prescribed

Having a high intake of anti-inflammatory foods will also help you in increasing these healthy habits.

“Inflammatory foods create byproducts during digestion that raise inflammatory compounds in the body,” says Emily McAllister, Registered Dietitian here at NCHPAD. “Anti-inflammatory foods contain higher levels of antioxidants and other protective compounds which help fight against inflammation.” Here are some examples of both.

Anti-inflammatory foods:

  • Salmon/tuna
  • Fruit
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Blueberries
  • Walnuts
  • Olive oil
  • Whole grains

Inflammatory foods:

  • Fried food
  • Soda
  • Red meat
  • Sugar
  • Highly processed food/meat
  • White flour products

There really isn’t one “diet” out there you must follow to prevent or manage inflammation. The goal is to maintain a healthy lifestyle for overall wellness.

Click the links below to learn more about several different healthy, flexible diets and see how they are similar by emphasizing foods full of antioxidants while limiting highly processed foods.

Cathy Wright

In this week’s NCHPAD Spotlight, we caught up with Mindfulness Instructor Cathy Wright. We chatted with Cathy about her career, the path that brought her to Mindfulness (and the MENTOR program), and much more!

How long have you been with NCHPAD?

I’ve been working with MENTOR since its inception: I designed and teach the Mindfulness portion of the program. 

Tell us about your background & education. What brought you to NCHPAD?

My relationship with NCHPAD began through the Lakeshore Foundation, when I was a consultant on Lakeshore’s original Strategic Plan years ago. The plan included three pillars:  exercise, research, and advocacy. This led to the recruitment of NCHPAD Director Dr. Jim Rimmer. The development of the MENTOR program and a commitment to advocacy led to inviting NCHPAD to locate on Lakeshore’s campus. 

I am a litigation attorney and mediator and practiced law for almost 25 years. A constant travel schedule and three children led me to a career change. I was a founder of a consulting company and worked for 15 years consulting with businesses, government, and nonprofits all over the US in the areas of strategic planning, communication, leadership, and crisis management. 

During that time, I also engaged in a long process of meditation training, beginning with Shaolin arts like tai chi, qi gong, and martial arts. I participated in a number of meditation trainings that led me to become an Enneagram teacher certified by The Narrative Enneagram, an approach based in meditation. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of world’s most respected Enneagram teachers. 

After I sold my business in 2016, I joined the inaugural Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program taught by Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. Today, I continue my training through the Diamond Approach.    

I’m a military kid and grew up all over the US as well as in Germany and Panamá. From these travels I learned that people are the same everywhere, but culture really matters. 

How long have you worked with people with disabilities?

My experience in working with people with disabilities began with consulting on the original Lakeshore Foundation Strategic Plan about 15 years ago. However, my father, an experienced US Army combat infantry officer, sustained a severe TBI leading to multiple issues, including seizures, when I was in elementary school. In those days, no treatment was offered, so I learned early about the daily challenges of living with severe injuries and the costs of not having any support. Working with the MENTOR program has been very healing for me. 

What do you do with NCHPAD?

I designed the MENTOR Mindfulness Training program and taught all the classes for several years. When the program grew, I recruited additional teachers with the help of Christy Sharshel and Tara Brach. As a result, we have some of the best and most experienced teachers both in Mindfulness and in working with people with disabilities. I continue to manage the teacher group and, together, we have continued to develop the curriculum.

What talents or expertise do you bring to NCHPAD or MENTOR?

This is a long, rambling answer more about the program than my expertise. In sum, I’d say that we have succeeded in cracking the code of how to reach students who weren’t looking for a Mindfulness class. My observation has been that many Mindfulness trainings are geared either toward people searching for mindfulness training while other programs are oriented toward one specific application such as pain or stress management. We wanted to develop a program that would be accessible to everyone. 

When Dr. Rimmer, the leading academic on disability and exercise – and founder of the MENTOR program – approached me about helping to develop the Mindfulness platform for MENTOR, we had many conversations about what the program would accomplish. We talked about the importance of having a structure and an arc for the training protocol, which led to the foundational design being based on The Power of Awareness, on which my teaching certification is based. While based in the combined 100 years’ experience of Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield, it is designed to be secular and instructive for people who want to incorporate the benefits of Mindfulness into their everyday lives. 

Most important for our classes, we have been focused on providing participants with an experience of how being mindful can support quality of life by reducing stress, creating more choices, enjoying the opportunities in each moment, and being at peace with reality. MENTOR participants come from a wide range of backgrounds, demographics, educational levels, beliefs, and challenges.  Most have no previous experience in mindfulness and do not arrive at MENTOR in search of mindfulness training. Some participants have current or past experience with meditation, yoga, or other forms of mindfulness training but are unaware of how their practice might support them in their current circumstances.  

We want all participants to not only learn basic concepts and tools, but also to experience what it is like to be able to apply them moment to moment. The classes also support them to build the tools and mindsets that offer calm, joy, and greater choice about how to respond to whatever circumstances they meet. 

I think this is the most important achievement of the MENTOR Mindfulness training: to reach a wide variety of people and allow them to enjoy their experience an hour a week for eight weeks, while beginning to apply some of these tools in a way that supports them where they are, and to do so sustainably. 

We are sometimes asked about how we adapted the training for people with disabilities or chronic illness.  It is very important that our teachers have some understanding of the lived experience of our participants and what they need to process. All our teachers have this knowledge to some extent, and many have their own lived experience of disability.  We try to be inclusive in our language and provide alternatives so the teaching is accessible to everyone. 

But I don’t think “adapted” is the right word. Meeting yourself where you are right now is the practice, which requires paying attention to how to adjust the practice for you as you are right now.  As teachers in MENTOR Mindfulness, we also see that our participants often have a readiness for mindfulness that others might not, because people who enter MENTOR mindfulness training already are managing new and often difficult circumstances that require them to slow down and think in new ways. 

In this introductory class, our teachers are careful to set good boundaries about what we offer and what we do not. We are not there as healthcare providers or therapists. We try to set realistic expectations about what is reasonably achievable in eight classes. 

What is your favorite thing about NCHPAD or MENTOR?

Working with – not for but with – our participants on a mutual journey of discovery. I learn something new in every class, and I always say the participants learn most from sharing with each other. An expression of an “Ah Ha!” experience by a class member is a great source of satisfaction, knowing that someone has found a way for their life to become easier and more enjoyable. 

Share a success story. Tell us about a time when you really saw your program working in the life of a participant.

There are so many examples, and the MENTOR team has collected feedback over the years that we have been offering classes. Here are some examples: 

  • A bright and thoughtful young man entered the MENTOR program with a heavy heart, blaming himself for a sports-related injury with lasting effects. In our first class of each session, we emphasize the central importance of “Rule #1: Be Kind to Yourself” and “Rule #2: Remember Rule #1.” This teaching is consistently the strongest feedback we hear about how the MENTOR training has been helpful. Over the next few weeks, he embraced this new understanding and became visibly happier and more engaged in life.  By the end of class, he planned to continue his Mindfulness training with the goal of teaching in the program. We’d love to have him.
  • A young man with a high school education with a physical injury felt a lot of anger and said he tended to explode when things frustrated him. During this program, the diverse group of participants—including a PhD and an experienced government staffer – became close and supported each other. Following the class sessions about the neuroscience of emotions and thoughts, and how to befriend your inner critic, this young man reported that he was using the tools he learned in class to manage his emotions and finding that he was able to reduce or even avoid outbursts. 
  • A young mother, newly diagnosed with a chronic illness, reported that over the course of the Mindfulness training, she began feeling calmer and “just stopped” smoking. 
  • A senior participant diagnosed with a chronic illness and now also diagnosed with a rapid onset of dementia sat through every class. While he never spoke, he was always smiling. His caregiver reported that he really looked forward to the classes, which provided both of them a time of respite. 
  • A brilliant man with several advanced degrees had a stroke over a year ago and was making slow but steady progress on recovery. In the past, he had a meditation practice, but hadn’t practiced in years. He reported that the MENTOR Mindfulness program had rekindled his awareness of how meditation could support his life after a stroke. 
  • A physician diagnosed with a chronic illness found she could combine her medical experience with the tools and practices she learned in the MENTOR program. Over the course of the program, she began sharing her knowledge with the class, which both grounded her own practice and inspired the rest of the class. 
  • In all our MENTOR Mindfulness instruction, we offer participants both permission and methods to adapt the practices to what works for them as they are right now. A paraplegic young woman with limited mobility was surprised to find that using embodied practices gave her a greater sense of connection and ease in her body, offering great peace and relaxation. 

What hobbies do you have outside of work?

I am a photographer and printmaker and enjoy a variety of visual arts. I also write poetry and participate in several writing groups. Travel is one of my favorite pastimes, and I’m happy to be able to travel again following the pandemic. We also have lots of flowers in our yard and in our house. I love spending time with my family, including 3 children and their partners, and 3 grandchildren. 

What’s your favorite food, favorite thing to cook or favorite recipe?

I love good food! I try to eat a very healthy diet but it has to have room for dessert – and I love anything with blueberries. I spent the pandemic baking sourdough bread for friends and family. My children are better cooks than I am (probably in self-defense!) but I like to bake healthy treats. Here are some favorites:

What’s your favorite music, movies or tv shows?

I love all kinds of music, although I am not blessed with any kind of musical talent myself. I like to listen to KCRW, BBC Sounds, and iTunes radio for awesome music mixes from all over the world. Jon Baptiste, Leon Bridges, Agnes Obel, Michael Kiwanuka, and Kaleo are some current favorites. And always Yo-Yo Ma. 

I stay riveted to British and Scandinavian mystery series. Continuing a theme, when I can’t think of anything else to watch, I default to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. If my daughter walks in the room when I’m watching, she sighs “Not again!”

What’s the last book you read? How was it?

I’m finishing up The Myth of Normal by Gabor Maté, which is an amazing rethinking of the intersection of health and culture. For escape and relaxation, I read British and Scandinavian mysteries. Among my favorite writers in this genre are Hennig Mankell, John Le Carré, Tana French, Peter Robinson, Camilla Lackberg, and Elizabeth George, among others. In the US, I am a big fan of Tony Hillerman whose novels were set on the Navajo and Hopi reservations. The really great writers cover themes of culture, political landscape, and psychology. 

Who or what inspires you?

I’ve been fortunate to have extraordinary teachers and to be acquainted with remarkable teachers.  The Mindfulness Teacher Training Certification Program offered by Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield has been very important to this stage of my life. Enneagram teachers Helen Palmer and Sandra Maitri have been great inspirations.  My early teachers John Fey and Charlie Fechter started me on my path. 

My first job out of law school was a law clerk to Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr. He modeled integrity, commitment, and courage in ways I can only aspire to. 

What’s your favorite quote?

“Presence does all the work.” – Hameed Ali (A.H. Almaas)

If you could switch careers for a day, what would you choose?

I aspire to be a painter. I also think the world needs many more good therapists. 

What’s one thing (not related to your job) that you could teach someone else how to do?

Bake really good cornbread and biscuits. 

In our latest Participant Spotlight, we chatted with Brandee Hicks. Brandee shared some of her favorite things from our programs, what brings her joy, and a little bit about her own work as a disability advocate.

Tell us about yourself.

I’ve lived in metro Atlanta for nearly 20 years, but I will always have a soft spot for my hometown of Detroit.

I am an experienced learning and public health researcher as well as a disability inclusion and accessibility advocate. And it is as an advocate that I use my public health experience and keen eye for identifying community needs that I started B. Out the Box. I launched B. Out the Box with the goal of changing the narrative around people with disabilities, exposing gaps in community accessibility, and celebrating innovative solutions for creating environments that are open to people of all abilities.

When did you connect with NCHPAD?

It was a few years ago when I was looking to build my network around disability advocacy work as well as possible job leads. A former colleague introduced me to Amy Rauworth with the Lakeshore Foundation. I met with her to talk about work within the disability space and building a network. She talked about NCHPAD and other avenues. I started doing some research and did a few NCHPAD exercise videos online here and there.

However, I learned about Movement-2-Music (M2M) through an Instagram ad! I saw a post about the program, so I reached out, and that’s what got the ball rolling over this past year. I did the screening for M2M, but my blood pressure was up so I couldn’t participate in that yet. Lori, who I talked to about M2M, told me about MENTOR, and I participated in the cohort that started in October 2022. I’m so grateful to Lori for telling me about the program!

What NCHPAD programs have you been part of?

MENTOR and NCHPAD Coffee Club.

What did you like about them?

Right away I noticed how comprehensive and well-planned MENTOR was – and that hooked me immediately. It’s hard to believe that all the knowledge, equipment, and time that I received was at no cost to me. The programs took away any barriers or excuses that I could make, and I appreciate that I could participate from home since I don’t drive.

I also liked having a schedule to get me into a routine and I had something to look forward to. It helped me feel like I “had a life” and had a group that I belonged to.

It’s difficult for me to identify which component in MENTOR I got the most out of because they were all so good! Mindfulness with Tara challenged me because this is an area where I struggle the most sometimes.

I would say that I was most surprised about what I learned from Lacey about nutrition because I tend to pay attention to my diet and read labels and thought that I had it covered. However, I learned so much about the types of fiber, the 5 areas to focus on when identifying a healthier option, and the safety tips and recipes were really helpful.

I also really enjoyed the coaching sessions with Carla. They helped reinforce everything and were a great way to cap off the week.

It was also good to have a time set aside during the day to get some exercise in, and I liked having access to John Ream’s videos.

In addition, I really appreciate that I still have access to all the resources plus some bonus information and exercises in Healthie. The instructors still respond if I ping them in the chat with a question or note!

Tell us why you would recommend a NCHPAD program or NCHPAD Connect to someone else.

I have told other people about NCHPAD, and I will continue to do so. There’s nothing to lose and so much to gain. It’s an opportunity to enhance key areas in their life (e.g., mindset, fitness, and connection) and they can do it all from the comfort of their own home. I’m not aware of anywhere else a person with a disability can go to access the quality or quantity of support and services that are available through NCHPAD.

What brings you joy?

I’m a research junkie so I get excited when I find or learn something new. I love reading, watching movies and ATL football with my husband, good food, and music.

I also enjoy engaging in activities where I can share my lived experience and insight to help underserved populations and improve healthcare experiences for all. I have done this as an activist involved in legislative and policy efforts, a patient family advisor, and a PCORI merit reviewer.

What else would you like us to know?

I’m sold on NCHPAD and look forward to all their programs because I know that it will be useful and engaging. I’m also currently in the UAB Arts in Medicine writing for healing program. I know that this is external to NCHPAD, but the impression is so strong that I knew that it would be worthwhile, and it has been a valuable experience and has helped me find another tool to use in my journey.

How has this impacted your life? Is there anything you’ve learned from NCHPAD that has impacted your life?

Besides the education and resources, I would say having a community or network has made these groups most meaningful for me. Although I may not talk much during the session or connect outside the group, it’s great to know that they’re there and that I’m adding to my support team.

Is there a particular person you’d like to give a shoutout, like an instructor, health coach, etc?

I’ve been blessed to connect with an amazing group of people throughout these programs and it hasn’t even been a year yet. Everyone has been so awesome, and I appreciate all the staff, instructors, and coaches that I’ve met. I would love to highlight Stephanie Ward not only for her work with NCHPAD Coffee Club but also for her responsiveness and openness even outside of the club. She is a warm beam of light I’m grateful that we have connected.

People doing core pulls

This is the second blog in a three-part series on exercise and balance, presented with our friends at Allard USA. Please note that if you have severe balance problems or have been losing your balance more often recently, see a healthcare provider before you get started with these exercises.

In our first blog in this series, we explored some simple ways to improve our sense of balance. Improving balance makes movement easier and increases how safe we feel while moving. Another way to improve our balance and mobility – and reduced our risk of pain or injury – is to strengthen our core.

Remember, our core includes muscles in our mid-section, hips, back and even shoulders! Another way to think of this is the muscles that attach to our spine, ribs and pelvis.

“Our core muscles help us move with a sense of stability,” says John Reams, NCHPAD Exercise Physiologist. “With that in mind, we can start to strengthen our core through two easy to learn exercises: diaphragmatic breathing and core pulls.” Both exercises can be done flat on your back, seated and standing. And both exercises help us increase awareness of how it feels to engage our core muscles.

REMEMBER: be sure to continue to breathe throughout all exercises. Avoid holding your breath at ANY point in these exercises.

Exercise 1: Diaphragmatic Breathing

Our diaphragm is a large dome-shaped muscle that separates our lungs from our abdomen. The diaphragm flattens and moves downward when you breathe in, and then it expands and moves upward when you breathe out. Diaphragmatic breathing is a simple exercise that can help you as you begin to work on your core strength. Here’s how it works:

  • Inhale through your nose and relax (or expand) the muscles around your midsection.
  • Exhale through your mouth and actively contract (or tighten) the muscles around your midsection.
  • Try to inhale deeply for two seconds, and then exhale slowly for four seconds.
  • Repeat this ten times.

Diaphragmatic breathing can help you feel the muscles around your midsection and be more aware of what relaxing and tightening your core feels like.

Exercise 2: Core Pulls

Core pulls engage muscles in our abdomen, hips and pelvis. Here’s how they work:

  • Pull your belly button back and down towards your hips.
  • At the same time, push or tighten your heels and the balls of your feet to the floor.
  • Maintain this for 10-30 seconds, and the exercise repeat 5-10 times.