Pacific Islander Diabetes Prevention Program Storytelling Series: Arkansas Coalition of the Marshallese

AAPCHO
6 min readSep 27, 2023

This blog post was originally posted on the Pacific Islander Diabetes Prevention Program website.

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The Pacific Islander Diabetes Prevention Program (PI-DPP), is a year-long, evidence-based lifestyle change program recognized and supported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). PI-DPP was formed through a partnership between the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO) and the Pacific Islander Center for Primary Care Excellence (PI-CoPCE) as a project funded by the CDC DP17–1705 grant to scale the CDC National DPP in underserved areas. Currently, PI-DPP consists of 11 sites throughout the U.S. and U.S. Affiliated Pacific Islands (USAPI).

Aligning with DPP success standards, participants aim for 5% body weight loss, 150 weekly physical activity minutes (PAMs), and lower HbA1C values.

Listen in each week as we highlight PI-DPP sites. Mililani Leui, Program Manager of PI-DPP, chats with site representatives to hear about their community stories and program impacts.

This week we spoke with John Calep of the Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese (ACOM). ACOM is an organization based in Springdale, Arkansas which aims to empower the Marshallese community through culturally sensitive programs via education, leadership, and policy advocacy. In this episode, Mililani and John speak about the importance of bringing together the Marshallese community in the United States as well as innovative and culturally reflective retention strategies.

Photo Courtesy of ACOM

John: My name is John Calep and I’m a lifestyle coach. I work for ACOM. And I’m a coordinator for the food pantry. Recently, I’m a PI-DPP lifestyle coach, and I’ve been doing this for almost five years.

Mililani: My name is Mililani Leui. I’m the program manager for the Pacific Islander Diabetes Prevention Program.

So, the first question is why is a program like this important for the community you serve?

John: It’s important because diabetes is prevalent in our community. In fact, 30–50% of our atoll have diabetes and many more don’t know they are at risk for diabetes. We want our community to be healthy, we want to treat diabetes. Our team’s goals for our community is to delay or prevent diabetes.

Mililani: Why is it important to tailor the program to your community’s specific needs?

John: Diabetes affects men and women, children and young adults, most of our people don’t have insurance and medication for diabetes. And, it’s expensive. 50% of Marshallese people are here in Arkansas. Our diabetes rate in the Marshall Islands is very high, and we are the leading nation for diabetes. And, we want to make changes for our community, here, in the [United States].

Mililani: Is there any background information you would like to share to reinforce the importance of this program for your community?

John: Yes, we screened and found that 658 were at-risk for diabetes and 466 at pre-[diabetes] or history of gestational diabetes. It is a lot of numbers. We are more than 20K Marshallese citizens, here in Arkansas.

ACOM 2017–2022 Impact Report
Photo Courtesy of PI-DPP

Mililani: What impact has your site had on the communities you serve?

John: For our program for PI-DPP, we do have partnerships with the community clinic and public health because we’re in the same building with them, and then we built partnerships with them and some other organizations.

You know, in our impact report, we have 915 participants enrolled, 533 completed and 332 reduced their risk of diabetes and total site weight loss was 10,399 pounds and 4,407,921 total physical activity minutes.

Not only the classes that we have, we do have activities, which is our Zumba classes. We always remind them that there will be an ACOM zumba class every Saturday for those that want to start their physical activities and this is what we try to tell them so that they can join us every Saturday to start their physical activities.

ACOM’s Food Pantry Volunteers
Photo Courtesy of ACOM

Mililani: So, what are some of your site’s challenges and/or best practices for recruitment, retention, and general programming?

John: Some of the challenges we face in recruitment, now that many people are moving to other cities outside of Springdale: We want to establish our program with our sisterhood site.

The best practice is we do have Zumba class and Hula class, and we have our food pantry. Every time we have participants coming in, we just prioritize them to like whatever we can give from the food pantry so that they can keep coming every Wednesday to stay in the class. That’s a best practice for how we keep the participants [to] stay active or stay in the class or the program.

During the COVID-19 Pandemic, ACOM conducted Zoom workouts. Here, participants pose for a picture after their workout!
Photo Courtesy of ACOM

We’ve been doing Zumba activities for so many years. I joined Zumba class with Fei and that’s where we found our participants. So many women want to change their diet or to change their lifestyle. We keep going with the activities doing the Zumba every day or mostly everyday. People that already change, and they have good results, they keep coming back. And, our team is always, like, trying to keep these activities, so that we can, you know, have these participants or new participants to join us.

It kind of challenges us because your body is really tired and you want to do something else, but because we want to keep our participants to stay healthy and active, and we try to get other people to come and see their results from the old participants to change their mind and come and join us. Like people who love to hula, like, they want to come and workout because they want to join hula, and we end up signing them up to be a part of this program -DPP participants.

Another challenge is, before, we never really had like class together because it was through COVID. But, people are slowly coming, and we are trying to keep that class in one place. Now people are starting to get back on track and the normal life schedule we always had before COVID.

Mililani: What future projects and/or goals does your site have for advancing diabetes prevention and promoting healthy lifestyles?

John: Since we have, I would say, a sisterhood site, here in Arkansas, they’re like miles away from Springdale. This is our future project to work with them. Another one is, Marshallese really do not have access to get healthy food and a place that they can go for activities. We have over there but mostly women come in here and work out with us because they feel comfortable. The culture is really, you know, complicated between Marshallese men and women. So, our future project is if we can wellness or have a schedule for different men and women to do activities and even learn how to make like healthy food for our participants. This is what I’m thinking, like, for the future. I talk more about it on social media and you know, try to help people understand what we’re doing especially the Marshallese people, here, in Arkansas.

We thank John from the Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese for speaking with us during this week’s segment. Please stay tuned for our next site highlight!

To learn more about ACOM, please visit their website and Facebook page!

To support ACOM in their pursuit of diabetes prevention and promoting healthy lifestyles, please contact Fressena Lawin at fressena@arkansasmarshallese.org for more information.

Facebook: @ArkanasasCoalitionofMarshallese

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AAPCHO

The Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations — dedicated to promoting advocacy, collaboration and leadership to improve AA and NHPI health.