Smithfield & Elyton Walk Club marks three years of promoting healthy activity

By Joseph D. Bryant

Housing Authority of the Birmingham District

Members said the club offers a support system where they encourage each other to keep going. They even bought matching red T-shirts. (Frank Couch, The Birmingham Times)
Members said the club offers a support system where they encourage each other to keep going. They even bought matching red T-shirts. (Frank Couch, The Birmingham Times)

What began as a gathering of five women just three years ago has quickly grown to become an institution in Birmingham’s Smithfield neighborhood.

Music fills the gym as a group of up to 47 participate in the Smithfield Court & Elyton Walk Club fitness regimen three days a week at Smithfield Court. The club is a resident services initiative of the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District.

Walk club members recently marked their third anniversary with a celebration luncheon at the Smithfield Court Recreation Center.

Their normal workout center was transformed into a banquet hall where speakers, including Mayor William Bell, marked the occasion that included music and a performance by the walkers themselves.

“In order to stay healthy you’ve got to keep moving,” Bell said, marveling at the group largely made of senior citizens. “If you keep moving then God will help your body and strengthen it. There’s joy in walking. There’s joy in being able to move.”

The club was organized by Pat Davis, community center program specialist for HABD.

“We have women who are in their late 60s who can dance like teenagers. We just have a ball,” Davis said. “We have luncheons, and we prepare the food ourselves and try to use healthy recipes. We just have a good time.”

There are no membership dues and the only requirement is a desire to become more active. In addition to walking, guest presenters also visit to discuss the benefits of healthy eating and healthy lifestyle choices.

From left, Gloria Sanders, Melinda Ruffin, Delia Mitchell and Tracey Moore take a lap around the gym during Walk Club. (Frank Couch, The Birmingham Times)
From left, Gloria Sanders, Melinda Ruffin, Delia Mitchell and Tracey Moore take a lap around the gym during Walk Club. (Frank Couch, The Birmingham Times)

The name “Walk Club” was a bit misleading as the women marched into the room, then dominated the stage with their own dance performance during their celebration.

The crowd stood, hand clapped and cameras were lifted high as the club members made their grand entrance to Stevie Wonder’s “Sign, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours.”

Rose Billingsley added a few extra moves to her routine, keeping time with the music as she danced through the gymnasium.

Billingsley and the others generated roars from the audience as they took the stage to showcase a choreographed dance routine.

Members have their own personal stories of working toward better health and overcoming physical obstacles.

Drucilla Davis uses a cane, yet holds it out in defiance of any physical obstacle as she does her regular workouts.

Participating is so important to Debora Taylor that she schedules her dialysis treatments at 3 a.m. to have time for her early morning walks.

In addition to the exercise, members said the club offers a support system where they encourage each other to keep going. Members even bought their own matching red t-shirts.

Those red shirts were replaced by red dresses and blouses as members showcased themselves.

“There is clearly strong pride among members of this group; pride in taking steps to improve their own heath and pride in strengthening the bonds of their community,” said Michael Lundy, HABD president/CEO. “Sometimes we need to press the ‘pause’ button and appreciate the simple things. Groups like these help strengthen not only our bodies but also the foundation for healthy communities.”