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The History 

of the Wellness Center

In 2012, Tallahatchie County was ranked 81 out of 82 counties in Mississippi in terms of health status with the highest rates of obesity, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, diabetes and heart disease in the state.  


Jim Kennedy, chairman of Cox Enterprises, owns property in Tallahatchie County and — knowing the statistics of the area — began inquiring about ways to make a positive impact on the region. Kennedy asked his team to explore ways that he could help empower Tallahatchie County residents to improve their health. They met with local stakeholders seeking to better understand the community’s needs and identify an organization poised for action. They found an ideal partner in Tallahatchie General Hospital and Jim Blackwood, its administrator.  


A trusted leader in the community, Blackwood understood the importance of community buy-in before making any decisions.  He helped make the connection to the University of Mississippi’s Department of Public Health and Dr. Catherine (Woodyard) Moring, a third-year Ph.D. student in search of a project for her doctoral dissertation. Moring began working with Tallahatchie General Hospital to design and implement a community health needs assessment. The objective was to identify priority health concerns among county residents, catalogue community assets and limitations and propose solutions to improve the quality of life for the citizens of the region.  As a result of this work, the concept of a community health and wellness facility was born.   


Kennedy invited Tallahatchie General Hospital to develop a proposal for a state-of-the-art facility to meet the community’s needs, offering consultation from Cox sustainability experts to make the new building as efficient as possible.  A comprehensive plan was developed by Blackwood and Moring, encompassing both the physical building and programming designed to engage the community.  


The proposed Wellness Center would be the first of its kind for the community, with a mission to inspire and empower residents to lead healthy lives through an array of programs, services and resources that enable prevention, address the root cause of disease and improve health outcomes and quality of life. Kennedy responded by personally investing $4M to fund construction of the Wellness Center facility and an accompanying outdoor trail.  Moring was hired as its first executive director. 


The new James C. Kennedy Wellness Center was dedicated on January 15, 2016.  The facility incorporates sustainable building elements including solar panels, high-efficiency HVAC and lighting and an energy-efficient building envelope. It includes a large multi-purpose space for group fitness classes, an exercise and fitness room, a kitchen for cooking demonstrations and traditional classroom space. The facility also houses outpatient physical and occupational therapy as well as a behavioral health program for seniors.  The “Path to Wellness” trail, a 1.25-mile outdoor walking path, was developed in partnership with the PATH Foundation of Atlanta. The campus also includes picnic tables and benches, a pond and a wellness garden providing a source for local produce.  


Since its opening, the Wellness Center has helped people lose weight, improve self-management of chronic health conditions, alleviate anxiety and depression, reduce and often eliminate chronic pain, teach people to make healthy choices and help people to truly thrive and enjoy enhanced well-being and quality of life.With increased access to healthcare and other health initiatives, Tallahatchie County’s health ranking has improved from 81 to 52 of 82.  


Working together, Tallahatchie General Hospital, the Wellness Center, its staff and community partners have improved the lives of those in the community and are creating a culture of healthy living for residents.  


This picture is from the Wellness Center's grand opening in January in 2016. The facility has provided an abundance of education, empowerment and access to preventive healthcare.

We had a classroom full and ready to learn as we kicked off our annual REDEFINE Program. We taught people how to redefine their health, take control of their life, and truly thrive.


Our program participants were so excited about their results and to complete a one-mile walk/run. Many of them were able to reverse chronic health conditions, lose weight, gain energy and start the year

off with new-found health and vitality.

Our group fitness classes are always a blast and Jennifer makes an incredible instructor. She can make you an exercise plan that works for your fitness level and lifestyle. Movement is one of our greatest tools for good health and longevity.


Our REDEFINE finale celebration was incredible this year! We lost an average of 10.5 pounds per person, reduced triglycerides by an average of 21 points per person, cholesterol by an average of 25 points per person, lost an average of 3 inches for our waists, learned how to eat right without dieting, maintain regular exercise, reduce stress, and improve sleep health. Participants also reported increased quality of life, improved self management of chronic disease and 20 people reversed their pre-diabetes.

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