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Your Health is in Your Hands

Blue Zones’ executive director walks the walk and talks the talk

by Kathy Grey

The recently launched four-episode Netflix docuseries, “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones,” follows pioneer of the Blue Zones lifestyle, researcher Dan Buettner, as he explores the “zones” in Japan, Sardinia, Greece, Costa Rica and even in the United States.

What some may not know is that Naples has a Blue Zones Project, brought to Southwest Florida in 2015 by Naples Community Hospital (NCH). Its goal is to decrease chronic disease and help residents live healthier, happier lives.

Who wouldn’t want that?

NCH fosters free empowering events and workshops to familiarize people with Blue Zones and its lifestyle tenets (see the Power 9 graphic) that lead to lower stress, new friendships and living with purpose.

Megan Greer at the Helm

Megan Greer became Blue Zones’ executive director six months ago when executive director Deb Logan chose to work in a different capacity to allow for greater time with her family.

“Deb was a fantastic leader. I’ve been a student of hers for four years,” Greer says of her work with Blue Zones. “She wanted to spend more time with her parents, to intentionally put work into that,” Greer says. “Helping people age more enjoyably with family support” is key to longevity, she says. “Joy and gratitude completely change the way you live your life.”

Greer spent 20 years working in policy and public health, systems and the environment. She’s on the verge of completing her master’s degree in public administration (“a nonstop growth opportunity”), built on the collaborative skills she has embraced and mastered throughout her career.


“People who live the longest have a very strong sense of purpose,” Greer says, “and a lot of what we talk about is finding your purpose. Your life, health and purpose here on Earth is all in your hands.

“We all have the ability to help. That’s what is fulfilling and inspirational to me: using my talents to help society at large. We tend to be focused on ourselves, but we might miss the well-being that comes from helping others.”

Seven years ago, Greer, who grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado, left home to define her own purpose. She had desperately wanted to have children, but that was not to be. Amicably divorced and needing to redefine herself, she was faced with what she describes as “who I was going to be and how I could contribute.”

Eventually, she says, “I discovered my womanhood without being a mother, being in a space that motivated me to be motherly. God had a plan for me to be motherly on a larger scale,” she says, referring to the societal envelopment Blue Zones offers. “Life happens for you in various ways,” she says. “You take them as gifts to help you walk through the world.”

Loved Ones First

Feeling close and being connected to others is a hallmark of Blue Zones. And it is something Greer takes to heart in all relationships, especially with family.

She now lives 2,000 miles from her parents, Jim and Nancy Pieper, and her siblings, Angie, Jeff and Melissa. It’s imperative in Greer’s purpose-driven life to experience the world with her family. Rather than fancy gifts, family members invest in seeing the world, including an upcoming two-week exploration of South Africa.

Megan Greer enlarged.jpg

“We took our Vietnam veteran dad back to Vietnam for his 70th birthday. Watching my father go through that process of healing created a deeper space for the whole family to understand what it was like and what he had been through.”

For decades, her father, Jim, suppressed the atrocities he experienced during the Vietnam War. But those many years later, witnessing China Beach as just a beach and seeing beautiful and happy people in Vietnam and Cambodia gave him profound relief.

“He didn’t ruin an entire society,” Greer says. “Instead of being ashamed, he was exonerated. My dad was also a victim of war.”

In the course of that trip, Greer says her father “let go of so much, and it was so meaningful to have this experience together with our deep love for each other.”

Blue Zones Power 9

Lifestyle habits of the world’s healthiest, longest-lived people

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Future Forecast

Her intentions as Blue Zones’ executive director in Southwest Florida are all-encompassing.

“Every day, we have choices to make that are influenced by what is around us. I’m very disciplined. I know hard work pays off and that we must show up and be there for other people.

“It’s exciting to foster and build a community that is focused on well-being and longevity,” Greer says, adding that action is required now, as the Southwest Florida community steadily grows.

“We need to be prepared with the infrastructure — housing, services and care. We need to actionally solve issues as quickly as possible, to move from talking to taking action.”

Greer describes herself as a lifetime outdoor enthusiast trying to discover the world. She lives locally with her partner, Jason, his Irish setter, Ruby, and Gordo, the kitty she rescued from a bush. She intentionally downshifts to make sure she is leading by example and following her life’s purpose.

“Joy and gratitude completely change the way you live your life.” ~ Megan Greer

Your Health is in Your Hands


Changing Lives Through Equine Therapy

Community support keeps Naples Therapeutic Riding Center galloping forward

by Christian Vanorsdale

More than 20 years ago, Naples Therapeutic Riding Center began serving Collier County. Located near Goodlette-Frank Road and Pine Ridge Road in Naples, the organization utilizes the healing power of horses to accomplish its mission to improve the lives of children and adults with physical, social and mental health needs through therapeutic riding and other equine-related programs.

Because of the commitment of volunteers and donors, the organization serves over 900 participants each year — 229 who are enrolled in the transformative therapeutic riding program.

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Carter and therapy horse

Equine therapy provides substantial results, from increasing mobility to bolstering new levels of confidence. Through partnerships with other community organizations, the demand for equine-assisted therapies continues to guide the organization’s roots further into the community.


Carter’s Story

The heartwarming journey of Carter, as shared by his mother, Dana McGourty, embraces what NTRC brings into the lives of its participants.

“Carter is a very active and social 12-year-old boy who loves movies, theme parks, swimming and horses. He has come a long way and has made enormous strides in the last seven years, thanks to his weekly therapeutic riding lessons.

“We noticed early on that Carter had a speech delay. When he was 3, he was diagnosed with low muscle tone and sensory issues. We sprang into action, putting him in every program we could find that would help. We learned about NTRC through occupational therapist Mary Fellenz.


“From the very first lesson, Carter gravitated toward the horses. He is very comfortable and relaxed around them. At first, he slouched on the horse, but now he sits up tall, which has helped his muscle tone.

“He can steer and command them, which improved his self-confidence and communication skills (when he is) off the horse. Riding also really helps with his anxiety. After a long and sensory-filled day at school, Carter gets on the horse, and it completely calms him, (and) when he is calm, that spills over into our home life.

“Carter participated in the summer camps for several years. Now a confident rider, his favorite part is the horse show, because he can demonstrate his horsemanship and smile for the camera.

“For a child who once struggled to find the words, there is no stopping Carter now. He has become the official NTRC reporter, interviewing fellow riders. We are so proud of him and grateful for the opportunities NTRC offers.”

To further serve participants like Carter, Naples Therapeutic Riding Center is dedicating the Fund-A-Need for its 18th annual Bootstrap Boogie Barn Dance to renovate spaces on campus and create usable areas. Those attending the 18th annual Bootstrap Boogie Barn Dance can help create the areas that positively impact participants’ lives now and in the future.

To learn more about Naples Therapeutic Riding Center, visit

If You Go

What: Naples Therapeutic Riding Center’s
18th annual Bootstrap Boogie Barn Dance

When: Saturday, Nov. 11, 5-10 p.m.

Where: 206 Ridge Drive, Naples

Purpose: To create usable areas that will positively impact participants’ lives

Expect: Live music, mechanical bull, shooting gallery, axe throwing, Pony Pie BINGO, Golden Boot raffle, live auction and barn tour

Details: Parking is available at the North Naples Church south parking lot.

Shuttle service will be available.

Click Here for more information.

Changing Lives Through Equine Therapy


Speaking Out for Victims

Domestic violence does not stop at the front door

by Linda Oberhaus, CEO, The Shelter for Abused Women & Children


On Sept. 16, 2023, Laura Candia was violently murdered on a public street in Immokalee. Her life was taken just seven minutes from our emergency shelter.

Laura was a passenger in her grandmother’s car when her abuser struck them with his vehicle and shot round after round into their car. Laura died at the scene and her grandmother was flown to the hospital with 15 bullet wounds.

While nightly news stations carried accounts of her killer’s arrest, the story didn’t make the local daily newspaper until 11 days later. And even then, it fell to page 17 — 14 pages behind news of Catesby’s lilies blooming at a Lee County recreation area and new parking systems set for local beaches.

If her abuser had shot a stranger on a public street in downtown Naples, we would have read about it for weeks. But, somehow, Laura’s murder slipped through the cracks.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and as Americans, we live in an era of heightened security. We are urged to be vigilant and report anything suspicious, but too often we turn a blind eye or fail to recognize the signs of domestic violence.

Laura is the 80th documented victim of domestic violence homicide in Collier County since The Shelter started keeping records in 1993. It is vital that we, as a community, speak out and work to raise awareness for services that help victims before they become a statistic.

We are fortunate that Laura’s killer did not take more lives during his public murdering spree, but many other communities have not been as fortunate. We see it on the news every night. Failure to recognize and report domestic violence not only endangers victims but puts our entire community at risk because, as Laura’s story shows, violence in the home does not stop at the front door. It endangers all of us.

In addition, the financial cost to the community is staggering. In 2022, the financial cost of domestic violence exceeded $31 million in Collier County, including law enforcement, court costs, medical care, social services, lost wages and job productivity.

Each day in America, three women are killed by domestic violence. Outside of their families and immediate communities, few will hear anything about their murders. And when we do learn of them, the news value will somehow be minimized by the fact that the killer was an intimate partner and not a random stranger.

Laura was just 20 years old. She leaves behind a beautiful daughter and a family struggling with tremendous trauma and loss. Laura could have been your daughter, granddaughter or great-granddaughter because domestic violence does not discriminate. It crosses all ethnic, economic and geographic boundaries. Victims and abusers live next door, socialize at your club, work out at your gym and sit next to you at worship.

Domestic violence is domestic terrorism. It is imperative that we stand as a community, raise awareness, know the signs and support the resources that will ultimately end domestic violence in Collier County. By not speaking out, our silence condones it.

If you know someone affected by domestic violence, call The Shelter’s 24-hour crisis hotline at 239-775-1101. For more information on how to recognize and act on the signs of domestic violence, go online to

Speaking Out for Victims


Soul-Searching on the Camino de Santiago

How a 500-mile walk helped heal my mind, body and soul

by Trista Meister

Several years ago, the universe threw me a curveball that rocked my world, exposing my deepest fears and childhood traumas. As I soul-searched, I discovered a profound journey that would lead to a deep healing.

Initially, I drew a wide net around my options, reading self-help books, meditating, doing yoga, going to therapy and attending church. When my husband encouraged me to watch the movie, “The Way,” chronicling individual stories of healing and growth along an extensive network of ancient pilgrim routes through Spain, I was immediately drawn to the concept of a pilgrimage because of my love of travel, nature and adventure.

Camino de Santiago

This popular pilgrim’s route is known as the Way of St. James or, in Spanish, Camino de Santiago, because it ends at the tomb of St. James in Spain’s cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Since the 11th century, millions of people have walked this vast network of roads and paths throughout Europe, some for spiritual reasons. Books about the Camino and the life-changing experiences people have had while walking altered my trajectory, and I soon became one of the 350,000 trekkers from around the world who complete the Camino de Santiago each year; following yellow arrows to find themselves.

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Camino Family 2022 Trista Meister and some of the amazing fellow pilgrims she met on her first Camino

Many are overcoming a challenge, celebrating milestones, seeking spiritual growth and checking this life-changing experience off their bucket list. For me and others, it was stitching together something that felt broken.

Psychology Today reported that walking the Camino can improve mental, emotional and spiritual well-being, and that certainly rang true for me and everyone I met along the way. The Camino was an opportunity to take time away from my daily routine at a stressful time to reflect on life and focus on my intentions. I did this while meeting new people with unique perspectives, exercising and discovering I could tolerate my truth. I immersed myself in a cleansing brought on by nature and experiencing a new culture.

“I did this while meeting new people with unique perspectives, exercising, discovering I could tolerate my truth and immersing myself in a cleansing brought on by nature and experiencing a new culture.”


Pyrenees Mountains Solo Camino 2022 – Trista Meister embarking on the first day of her first Camino hiking alone over the Pyrenees mountains crossing from France into Spain

Through it all, my mind and body were tested to their limits. As I built up my self-confidence, I learned I had the strength to tackle any problem that came my way on the Camino. And that translated to life back home.


In the summer of 2023, exactly one year after I walked alone, my husband and I completed the trek together. I called this journey the “Way of Love.” We healed, soul-searched and spread loving intentions all over the Camino, inspiring others with our zest for life, honesty and love for each other. We formed two Camino families who merged at the end. They touched our lives in immeasurable ways. We know they will always be with us, despite the distance of our home countries.

Soul searching is a beautiful and frightening experience. Looking inside yourself and evaluating why and how you respond to life can be intimidating — just like climbing a mountain — but when you return to love, forgiveness and compassion, the views are well worth the blisters you endured to get there.

The reward is personal growth, an expansive sense of self and the miracle of a changed perspective. I learned — by putting one foot in front of the other, opening myself to new experiences, staying present and soaking in the beauty around me — that I could heal.

Buen Camino!

Trista Meister is a mental health advocate and soul searcher. Professionally, she is a marketing and public relations consultant with Mindful Marketing Florida, where she is passionate about helping nonprofits and companies that care meet their goals to help others thrive.


Camino 2023 Finish at Cathedral – TJ and Trista Meister posing at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela – the final stop of the Camino de Santiago

I released the pain from my traumatic experiences while being supported by other deep soul-searchers who became my Camino family. As I tackled my fears and began this journey alone, I finished being surrounded by the kindness, love and understanding of those I met along the way.

My experience was so profound, I planned to return with my husband in 2023, this time to celebrate our 50th birthdays and 25th wedding anniversary and grow closer through the beauty of this 500-mile, 30-day walk along the Spanish countryside.

Suggested Camino Reads

  • “The Pilgrimage” by Paulo Coelho 

  • “Walking with Sam” by Andrew McCarthy

(The audio book is recorded in Sam and Andrew’s voices.)

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Soul-Searching on the Camino de Santiago


October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Risks, symptoms and new revelations on early detection

by Kimberly Blaker

The latest research indicates that 12% of women will develop invasive breast cancer, and more than 40,000 will die from the disease this year alone, reports

That’s why a refresher course on early detection and staying up to date on the latest studies is essential during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Risk factors

There are several risk factors for breast cancer, as identified by the American Cancer Society (ACS), both unchangeable and lifestyle related.

Unchangeable are female gender, aging, genetics, race and ethnicity. (White women are at a slightly higher risk.) A greater number of menstrual cycles, previous chest radiation and exposure to the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) also put women at a slightly higher risk.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), having more than one child provides increased protection with each successive birth, and women who breastfeed also reduce their risk of breast cancer. The longer the length of time spent breastfeeding, the greater the protection.

Oral contraceptives, according to the ACS, slightly increase risk, though once a woman is off contraceptives for 10 years, that risk is no longer present.

Hormone therapy for menopausal women can also increase risk. The ACS says estrogen alone is not a concern, but estrogen combined with progestin can increase risk.

Alcohol consumption increases risk. One daily drink increases the risk slightly, but the greater the consumption, the higher the risk. More than five drinks daily increase the risk for other cancers, as well.

After menopause, being overweight or obese increases risk, says the ACS, noting that the risk of breast cancer related to weight is complex. Those who were overweight as a child may not be affected. Waist area fat, in particular, might be more significant in increasing risk than fat in other parts of the body, such as hips and thighs.

Exercise, however, has been shown to decrease risk, according to a study by the Women's Health Initiative, who found just 1.25 to 2.5 hours of brisk walking each week can reduce risk by 18%.

Several factors that previously have been claimed to increase risk factors are now disproven or deemed highly improbable, according to ACS and Memorial Sloan Kettering. These include antiperspirants, bras, abortion or miscarriage, dense breasts, fibrocystic disease and breast implants.

Studies have produced conflicting results about diet and vitamins, environmental chemicals, tobacco smoke and night work.


If you notice any of these symptoms, see your health care provider to rule out breast cancer.

  • A new lump or breast change that feels different from the rest of your breast or different from your other breast

  • You feel something different that you haven’t felt previously.

  • Nipple discharge that’s bloody or clear rather than milky

  • Thickening, a lump or hard knot inside the breast or in the underarm area

  • Breast swelling, dimpling, warmth or redness

  • Change in breast shape or size

  • A sore or rash on the nipple, particularly scaly or itchy

  • Your nipple or other parts of your breast pulling inward

  • Pain in one spot that doesn’t go away

Early detection and screenings

Until more recently, women were encouraged to do a monthly self-examination. But a major study reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2002, concluded self-examination has played no role in improving cancer detection and could lead to an increased rate of benign breast biopsies.


Annual clinical breast exams are still recommended. Women with higher risk factors should consult with their doctor for the recommended frequency.

Mammography is believed to be one of the most crucial tools in early detection, but statistics may have overstated mammography's role in the reduction of breast cancer death rates.

It’s now known there are at least four types and subtypes of breast cancer, and mammography often doesn’t detect the more lethal types until they’re in the later stages. Also, mammograms result in significant overdiagnosis, leading to unnecessary treatment, which comes with its own risks.

Doctor Deanna Attai, president of the American Society of Breast Surgeons, explains, “Ductal carcinoma in-situ (DCIS) is also referred to as noninvasive, or Stage 0 breast cancer. It is primarily diagnosed by screening mammograms, as it often does not form a palpable lump. DCIS accounts for approximately 20% of mammographically detected breast cancers...”

Some medical experts say DCIS is really not a form of cancer at all. The likelihood of low-grade DCIS developing into invasive breast cancer is only 16%, says Dr. Attai, while high-grade DCIS has a 60% chance over 10 years. The dilemma is there’s currently no way to determine which cases of DCIS will ultimately develop into breast cancer.

What is known is that among women in the United States, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths. Various studies indeed reveal mammography screening seems to have very limited usefulness among women under 40. Still, it’s moderately effective for detection in women ages 40-49 and is most useful for those in the 50-69 age group.

More research is needed to better answer questions about the approach to both detection and treatment. Additionally, better screening techniques are needed to detect the more deadly forms of breast cancer.

Currently, there’s much debate regarding the recommended frequency of mammography. The latest cancer screening guideline by the ACS (2015) recommends women with average risk should begin regular mammography screenings at age 45. Then they should be annually screened until they reach 54. After that, they should transition to every two years, as long as they’re in good health with a life expectancy of at least 10 years.

After a rigorous analysis, the American College of Physicians (ACP) recommends that physicians discuss with women their specific potential harms and benefits. For example, the potential harms, argues the ACP, outweigh the benefits for most women in the 40- to 49-year age range.

Finally, there's no one-size-fits-all plan. So, mammography screening for breast cancer should be based on informed decisions and individualized plans. It should take into account a woman’s age, risk factors and both the advantages and disadvantages of mammography for each woman’s unique circumstances.

As actress Ann Jillian said, “There can be life after breast cancer. The prerequisite is early detection.”


Kimberly Blaker is a freelance writer. She also owns an online bookshop, Sage Rare & Collectible Books, specializing in out-of-print, scarce, signed, and first editions; fine bindings; ephemera and more at

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