“Friends and Family,” a local chapter or “crew” of the national walking organization GirlTREK, has deep roots in the National Heritage Area.
Gina Jones of Loganville Georgia has walked for the last three years—every day—rain or shine. (Although not during thunder or lightning.) Jones is diabetic and three years ago was searching for natural ways to manage the ailment. “The walking was in response to getting my A1C levels under 7.0 percent,” said Jones. “I started walking to work on that. And my sister-in-law Sandra started walking with me, and it just went from there.”
More than just the exercise, Jones is referring to her daily walking group Friends and Family, an East Atlanta chapter or “walking crew” of GirlTREK, an international walking organization founded in 2010 by two women of color, T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison. GirlTREK has more than 1.3 million members, making it the largest health nonprofit for Black women and girls in the country.
“A lot of Black women die from preventable diseases,” said Jones. “What the statistics show is that our life expectancy is 5-10 years less than that of other groups. And that’s the reason [Dixon and Garrison] started the group and why we keep walking.”
A Healthy Habit
Joining GirlTREK involves signing a commitment form to walk at least thirty minutes daily. Weekends too. It’s a simple but effective approach. Since she started Friends and Family walking crew in 2020, Jones is just one of several members who’ve walked every single day. Her sister-in-law Sandra has been there since the start and lost more than 100 pounds on her health journey. As for Jones’ diabetes, for the last year, her A1C levels have improved, hovering between 6.2 and 6.4. She’s taking less medication too. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of physical activity a week, which might seem like a lot but boils down to just thirty minutes five days a week.
And the TREKers love Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area. “We hike at Arabia Mountain every Tuesday, and have been doing that for a long time,” says Jones. “You don’t have to walk fast or run or jog to get healthy. You walk your own pace—and if you just want to do the thirty minutes then that’s fine.”
Treking All Over
In addition to the health benefits, the walking has created a small but tight-knit community around Jones. Friends and Family has also partnered with Retirementville, another local walking group of about 40 retired ladies, including some GirlTREKers and others who’ve walked every day for the last five years. Together, the groups have taken their walking routine all around Georgia and even farther to Nashville, Charleston, Maryland and Washington DC. Members even continue their daily walks on vacations overseas to Paris, Ghana, Canada, and Jamaica.
Sometimes the little, local moments are sweet as well. “They love sunrise at the mountain, so we recently did a sunrise hike for a member’s birthday,” said Jones. “We met at the Nature Center at 6:10am so we could hike up and be at the top of the mountain for the sun. For a birthday!”