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Groups plant seeds for healthier living

A local nonprofit organization dedicated to community engagement and promoting healthy lifestyles is kick-starting a program to encourage people in Wilson County to take more stock in how they get their food.

Vine Branch Fellowship, based in Mt. Juliet, has several branches devoted to respective ministries. One of those branches, Healthy Eating At the Table seeks to encourage locals to grow their own food but the fellowship isn’t going it alone.

The program is collaborating with the Wilson County Civic League and University of Tennessee ag extension agent Leslyne Watkins. Throughout the week, members of Vine Branch Fellowship gathered supplies to build raised garden beds at the Civic League’s location, 321 E. Market St., in Lebanon.

Executive Director of Vine Branch Fellowship Alex Scott, said this program aims to “introduce healthier food to students as well as adults.”

Scott said that his son is diabetic, and as a result, he and his wife became “entrenched in this healthy aspect because we had to. So why not share what we learned?”

Scott’s wife, Shené, is a certified nutritionist and program director with Vine Branch Fellowship. She also worked at Gladeville Middle School as an educator where the school’s agriculture teacher had a small garden plot and a chicken coop. The fruits and vegetables grown served to supplement the educational aspects of cultivation.

“We currently have a garden at a Wilson County school and are working on a proposal with UT Extension and Lebanon Special School District to place gardens in schools within that district,” said Shené Scott.

Watkins mentioned to Shené Scott the Civic League used to have a garden and may be interested in creating another one. Shené Scott said that when she contacted the Civic League and presented the purpose at its board meeting, the seeds for the new community garden were planted.

Watkins said that she reached out to Vine Branch Fellowship through her supervisor after learning about the garden at Gladeville Middle School.

“I was interested in starting a school garden somewhere within the county and since we had similar interests it worked out for us to partner up together,” she said.

According to Watkins, there are currently two gardens in the works, one at a local school, pending approval and the one at the Civic League.

Watkins said that her role with HEAT will be from “more of an educational standpoint,” but she still plans to be hands-on helping in the garden. However her major role will be “conducting educational programming for those who will benefit from the gardens directly.”

Since nutrition education is Watkins’ specialty, she wants to continue focusing on the benefits to individuals growing their own food, “incorporating more fruits and vegetables into their diet, and the physical activity aspect of gardening and yard work.”

She admits that she doesn’t have much of a green thumb herself, but said, “Extension offers a lot of information and assistance for those wanting to utilize land and resources to grow food.”

Combined, these elements will make the HEAT gardening program and its mission possible. Shené Scott said, “The purpose of HEAT Gardening is to reduce chronic illness within adults and children by promoting the value of eating healthy foods with lessons which educate individuals about the natural cultivation of food through gardening.”

Vine Branch Fellowship will work with participants to install raised garden beds on location. This includes the soil and planting seeds and plants. The participants choose how large or small they wish the garden to be and what they would like to grow based upon the season.

Shené Scott said that the projects were made possible through contributions from community businesses such as Home Depot in Lebanon, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Target and Needham’s Nursery in Mt. Juliet, Tractor Supply in Old Hickory and Grant Cedar Mill in Gordonsville.

The Scotts started HEAT after observing the rise in chronic health conditions related to poor nutrition. Shené Scott said, “For the first time in human history, obesity is a bigger health crisis than hunger.”

His role at Vine Branch is just one of many hats that Scott wears. He’s also a full-time firefighter in Nashville and a licensed minister. Hence the origin of the organization’s name, which Scott said is intended to communicate the interconnectedness of the community. “The vines of the branch join us with other individual entities.”

HEAT represents half of the fellowship’s Nourish program, which primarily focuses on catalyzing healthy lifestyles. The other half is called Snacks and Meals to Impact and Lift Each Soul, or SMILES.

“SMILES is designed to put a smile on the face of those who may be going through difficult times by providing them with a snack or meal,” Shené Scott said.

The Scott’s ministry provides food to individuals and families within other organizations, delivering goodie bags to residents in Elmcroft of Lebanon, Mariston of Providence in Mt. Juliet and the Ronald McDonald House in Nashville.

Above: Cesar Calderon, an employee of Complete Demo, operates an excavator in the courtyard of

West Wilson Middle School on Thursday as demolition of the school officially got underway. The school was damaged beyond repair during the tornado

that struck Mt. Juliet on March 3, 2020. Right: Some former, current and future West Wilson students watch and record from their front row seats the demolition on Thursday as it was taking place.

Some former, current and future West Wilson students watch and record from their front row seats the demolition on Thursday as it was taking place.

Poll finds most unvaccinated Americans don't want shots

Most Americans who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 say they are unlikely to get the shots and doubt they would work against the aggressive delta variant despite evidence they do, according to a new poll that underscores the challenges facing public health officials amid soaring infections in some states.

Among American adults who have not yet received a vaccine, 35% say they probably will not, and 45% say they definitely will not, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Just 3% say they definitely will get the shots, though another 16% say they probably will.

What’s more, 64% of unvaccinated Americans have little to no confidence the shots are effective against variants — including the delta variant that officials say is responsible for 83% of new cases in the U.S. — despite evidence that they offer strong protection. In contrast, 86% of those who have already been vaccinated have at least some confidence that the vaccines will work.

That means “that there will be more preventable cases, more preventable hospitalizations and more preventable deaths,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University.

“We always knew some proportion of the population would be difficult to persuade no matter what the data showed, (and) a lot of people are beyond persuasion,” said Adalja. He echoed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky in calling the current surge “a pandemic of the unvaccinated” because nearly all hospital admissions and deaths have been among those who weren’t immunized.

The AP-NORC survey was conducted before several Republicans and conservative cable news personalities this week urged people to get vaccinated after months of stoking hesitancy. That effort comes as COVID-19 cases nearly tripled in the U.S. over the past two weeks.

Nationally, 56.4% of all Americans, including children, have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the CDC. And White House officials said Thursday that vaccinations are beginning to increase in some states where rates are lagging behind and COVID-19 cases are rising, including in Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada.

Still, just over 40% of Louisiana’s population has received at least one dose, and the state reported 5,388 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday — the third-highest single-day figure since the pandemic began. Hospitalizations also rose steeply in the last month. In Tennessee, as of Thursday almost 45% of residents have received at last one dose.

The AP-NORC survey found that the majority of Americans — 54% — are at least somewhat concerned that they or someone in their family will be infected, including 27% who are very concerned. That’s up slightly from a month ago, but far below the beginning of the year, when about 7 in 10 Americans said they were at least somewhat concerned that they or someone they knew would be infected.

Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to say they’re at least somewhat concerned about someone close to them being infected, 70% to 38%.

And overall, Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to say they have not been vaccinated and definitely or probably won’t be, 43% to 10%. Views are also divided along age and education lines: Thirty-seven% of those under age 45 say they haven’t and likely won’t get the shots, compared with just 16% of those older. And those without college degrees are more likely than those with them to say they aren’t and won’t be vaccinated, 30% to 18%.

Cody Johansen, who lives near Orlando, Florida, considers himself a conservative Republican, but said that had no bearing on his decision to skip vaccination.

“It hasn’t really been that dangerous to people in my demographic, and I have a good immune system,” said Johansen, a 26-year-old who installs audio-visual equipment at military bases. “Most of my friends got vaccinated, and they’re a little mad at me for not getting it. There is peer pressure because they say it’s a civic responsibility.”

He said it’s obvious the shots have been effective, though it bothers him a little that they have only emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

Johansen said he approves of how President Joe Biden has handled the pandemic response, saying he has exhibited good leadership.

That reflects the poll’s findings. A large majority of Americans, 66%, continue to approve of how Biden is handling the pandemic — higher than Biden’s overall approval rating of 59%.

The difference is fueled largely by Republicans, 32% of whom say they approve of Biden’s handling of COVID-19 compared with 15% who approve of him overall. About 9 in 10 Democrats approve of Biden overall and for his handling of the pandemic.

Jessie McMasters, an aerospace engineer who lives near Rockford, Illinois, said she got her first shot when she was 37 weeks pregnant after talking with her midwife and reading about how the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were developed.

“That gave me high confidence that they worked,” said McMasters. Her parents both were infected but did not suffer serious illness, and both have since been vaccinated.

She said her friends and family are all over the place when it comes to their views on vaccination and other virus-prevention measures — often reflecting how such discussions have become partisan. Some who got it are “so far on one end that they may never give up masks because now it’s a personal statement,” said McMasters, who leans Democratic, just as others won’t get the shots because of their political beliefs or misinformation.

Dr. Howard Koh, a professor at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, said vaccine hesitancy is not new, but the misinformation surrounding COVID-19 and the fast-spreading variant make it imperative to reach people one-on-one to understand their concerns and provide accurate information.

He called the new surge in infections and deaths “just heartbreaking.”

“What I learned from my patients is that when a loved one dies, that’s a tragedy,” said Koh, who was a senior public health official in the Obama administration. “But when a loved one dies and you know it could have been prevented, that tragedy haunts you forever.”

Historic Lebanon recognized for 7th consecutive year

For the seventh consecutive year, Historic Lebanon has been named an “Accredited” Main Street America organization, the nationwide program’s top tier of recognition.

Based on the program’s criteria, this tier “signifies a demonstrated commitment to comprehensive commercial district revitalization and a proven track record of successfully applying the Main Street Approach.”

Patrice Frey, president and CEO of Main Street America. said in a press release, “We are thrilled to acknowledge this year’s Accredited and Affiliate programs and their dedication to advancing economic opportunity and quality of life in their downtowns.”

Frey added, “During an incredibly challenging year, these programs have demonstrated the power of the Main Street movement to champion small businesses, drive recovery efforts, and lift up their communities. I am inspired by their efforts and know that these Main Street programs will continue to help their districts flourish in the next stages of recovery.”

Despite the pandemic, in 2020, $331,000 of private and public money was invested in the Lebanon Main Street District. Historic Lebanon Executive Director Kim Parks said in an email that this resulted in rehabilitation work to 13 historic buildings, two new murals, and infrastructure improvement to the southeast quadrant of the square.

Parks broke down those numbers, with $250,000 invested from private sources that requested to remain confidential, while the remaining $81,000 was budgeted from public funds for improvement projects like the southeast quadrant of the square, the veterans mural at 320 W. Main St. and the Messages of Hope mural at 133 S. College St., both Wilco Murals projects.

“As we all pivot in this pandemic economy, the continued investment in our historic downtown core adds to the economy for the entire community and shows our commitment to supporting our local businesses,” said Parks. “Our program is all about using historic preservation for a positive economic impact.”

Of the program’s continued accreditation status, Historic Lebanon Chairman Ryan Sprouse said in the press release that they were “proud” to be recognized, and the program would continue with the mission of “revitalizing Lebanon’s public square and surrounding neighborhoods.”

To be recognized for this honor, Historic Lebanon’s performance is evaluated by the Tennessee Main Street Program, under the TN Department of Economic and Community Development, which works in partnership with Main Street America to identify the local programs that meet ten rigorous performance standards.

Evaluation criteria determine the communities that are building comprehensive and sustainable revitalization efforts and include standards such as fostering strong public-private partnerships, documenting programmatic progress, and actively preserving historic buildings.

The 10 sets of accreditation standards are:

1. Has broad-based community support for the commercial district revitalization process, with strong support from both the public and private sectors

2. Has developed vision and mission statements relevant to community conditions and to the local Main Street program’s organizational stage

3. Has a comprehensive Main Street work plan

4. Possesses an historic preservation ethic

5. Has an active board of directors and committees

6. Has an adequate operating budget

7. Has a paid professional program manager

8. Conducts a program of ongoing training for staff and volunteers

9. Reports key statistics

10. Is a current member of the Main Street America Network

Historic Lebanon’s focus is to preserve the historic buildings, increase tourism, entice more entrepreneurs to the district and to create a sense of place in the city’s historic downtown core. Parks said it’s important to use the historic properties in new ways to create a vibrant area with restaurants, retail and office spaces as well as urban living.

Another goal of the program is to curate a more walkable downtown with public green spaces, a direct connection to the commuter train station through a walking trail and the installation of public art. These improvements will create a gathering place for locals and ideally increase tourism to Lebanon’s downtown.

Tennessee Main Street Director Nancy Williams said in the press release that being a Main Street America community is a special mark of distinction, and represents a commitment to continual improvement, community engagement, and rigorous outcome measurement.