In 2012, Tallahatchie County was ranked 81st 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. In order to improve the overall health and quality of life for people in the community, concerned leaders from the University of Mississippi partnered with Tallahatchie General Hospital Administrator, Jim Blackwood, Charleston residents and local property owners, including philanthropist Jim Kennedy, to identify a possible solution.

As a first step, a community health needs assessment was conducted in 2012 by then doctoral student Dr. Catherine Woodyard to identify the perceived health needs and priority issues in the community.  As a result of the study, an idea began to form for the development of a health and wellness facility to be located on the hospital campus.

The envisioned facility would be the first of its kind in the area, offering free educational programming to provide individuals with the information and resources they need to obtain optimal health and wellness. A grant request for the project was developed by Jim Blackwood and Catherine Woodyard in May 2013. Dedicated to empowering individuals and families in Tallahatchie County to improve their health, Jim Kennedy responded with a generous commitment to fund construction of the proposed Health and Wellness Center and an outdoor pedestrian and bike trail for public use.

The 20,000 S. F. facility incorporates sustainable building elements such as 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 with cardio equipment, free weights and weight machines, a kitchen for cooking demonstrations, and classroom space. The facility will also house outpatient physical and occupational therapy as well as a behavioral health program for seniors. The “Path to Wellness” trail was developed in partnership with the PATH Foundation of Atlanta featuring educational signage on preventive health care and energy conservation. The campus also includes picnic tables and benches, a pond and a wellness garden providing a source for local produce. Construction was completed in December 2015. Dedicated on January 15, 2016, the facility has been named the James C. Kennedy Wellness Center. Catherine Woodyard serves as its executive director.

About James C. Kennedy

 James C. “Jim” Kennedy is chairman of privately-held Cox Enterprises, a leading communications, media and automotive services company. He is the grandson of former Ohio Governor and presidential candidate James M. Cox, who founded the company in 1898. Kennedy joined Cox in 1972 and become chairman and chief executive officer in 1988. During his tenure, Cox Enterprises has increased in annual revenues from $1.8B to more than $17B.

Kennedy holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Denver. He was inducted into Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business Hall of Fame in 2004 and was bestowed an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Kennesaw State University in 2003.

He is a philanthropist who supports a number of organizations, primarily focusing on conservation and the environment, education and healthcare. Jim is also an avid outdoorsman. He founded the company’s national sustainability program, known as Cox Conserves, which focuses on reducing waste and energy consumption, as well as conserving water. Since the program launched in 2007, the company and its affiliated foundations have invested more than $100 M in sustainability and conservation through operations projects and grants to support environmental nonprofits.

He is a former president of Wetlands America Trust, Inc. and previously served on the boards of The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited and Atlanta Committee for Progress. He’s the recipient of The Trust for Public Land’s Conservation Champion award, Ducks Unlimited’s Conservation Achievement Award and the Georgia Conservancy’s Distinguished Conservationist of the Year award.  He previously served as Chairman of the Colorado Division of Wildlife Commission and was awarded Sportsman of the Year.