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Becoming a Brain Health Initiative scholar is a no-brainer

No matter what eventually comes out of the Brain Health Initiative, the scholar program should be known as its first stroke of genius.

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Stephanie Peabody thinks on a grand scale, which should be expected from a neuropsychologist with more than 20 years of experience as a clinician and program designer, and one who is the creator and founding director of the Brain Health Initiative that has found its home in Lakewood Ranch.

To take that another step, consider that she has collaborated with Massachusetts General Hospital, a Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital, to get this program launched.

It's all very impressive, and yet many of us think of the long term being the construction of Owens Fish Camp on University Parkway. Owens Fish Camp announced its intention to build in Lakewood Ranch in January 2020, broke ground Dec. 10 and is expected to open the doors late this year. For most of us, that's a long time to wait for a restaurant.

The Brain Health Initiative, in comparison, announced it was coming to Lakewood Ranch in March 2019 and more than three years later is just getting warmed up. That could mean we're going to eat a lot of shrimp and grits at Owens Fish Camp before we realize the significance of the Brain Health Initiative's research.

Consider that the Framingham Heart Study began in 1948 in Framingham, Massachusetts, and now is studying its third generation of participants. Although the study is considered outstanding in scope, some of the major revelations that eventually shaped our healthier lifestyles weren't accepted until the 1960s, in the study's second decade.

This all goes back to the vision, which researchers, educators and many of the world's finest minds understand far better than most of us. It all involves patience and the grand scale.

I get it, and still, for many of us, those who work day to day and run our lives and our families here in the Lakewood Ranch area, hearing about the Brain Health Initiative and its goals can be more of a "wake me when it's over" proposition. Most of us simply don't have the patience to wait that long for the pay-off, even if we know we eventually will benefit from it. It's hard to stay the course and to keep providing our support, which the study urgently needs.

This isn't rocket science, so they say, so it's not surprising Peabody and her cohorts thought strategically about how to design a program that would offer immediate impacts to a society that gets peeved when it has to wait more than five minutes in line at the grocery store.

The Brain Health Initiative, therefore, came up with the Brain Health Scholar program. No matter what eventually comes out of the Brain Health Initiative, the scholar program should be known as its first stroke of genius.

The program is open to those 15 or older who attend a youth program, school or college that collaborates with the Brain Health Initiative. If you are 15 or older and live in this region, it pretty much means you are in the pool.

The next step is that "An authorized representative of the nominating organization will nominate a student leader(s). The qualified candidate(s) should have an interest in science, medicine, health and human services, in community or public health, and/or education."

Nominated students then decide if they want to apply to the program.

When all was said in done during the initial class of 2020, 69 Brain Health Scholars emerged representing 19 schools and universities. These bright students had the opportunity to participate with Brain Health Initiative clinicians and scientists, and they participated in community engagement, research and in the Brain Health Initiative's innovation agenda.

OK, they rubbed elbows with some of the world's smartest brain health researchers, educators and scientists.

As you might expect, the students who participated had a nice addition to their resume when it came time to apply to universities or for scholarships and honor programs. But their gain was stunted by that of the Brain Health Initiative and the community as a whole.

Whether or not the students decided to follow a path to learn more about brain health, or to enter an associated field, they had been exposed to the initiative's goals and objectives, and they acted as ambassadors in spreading the importance of the mission. Note that Peabody has been inundated with requests from high schools, universities and medical schools to expand the program.

Producing doctors and researchers is important, but brain health public relations ambassadors for the Brain Health Initiative effort is ultra important in the short term. Peabody simply doesn't have the staff at this point to handle that kind of mission, not when the scientific nuts and bolts need to be turned. And, yet, a legion of our brightest young minds suddenly will be engaged in a program that has important health implications for all of us, and they are willing to spread the word.

Want testimony? Check out this excerpt from a letter of gratitude written by Out-of-Door Academy senior Reece Whatmore. 

"As far as brain health goes, it has been an honor to learn from the most amazing professors on such a critical topic. Learning that brain health is health has been a key lesson that has transformed the way I think about our minds. Beyond the basics, I also learned about collecting data, surveys, working with a team, the pillars of brain health, and risk factors and protective factors of brain health. It was a privilege to be a part of this program, and I hope that many more students have the opportunity to participate in such an important program. Having the opportunity to help change our local community for the better has truly been an honor."

The Brain Health Initiative has announced the opening of its 2022 Brain Health Scholar process, and the deadline for nominations is May 16. The deadline for nominated students to submit an application to the program is May 30. Current sophomore, junior and senior high school students as well as college undergraduate and graduate students are eligible.

Both the school districts of Sarasota and Manatee counties have endorsed the program.

If you are interested, check it out at

You just might find out that life is, indeed, grand.


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