Improve your life: Mind, Body, Soul

The new year brings the promise of new opportunities. Annually, we make our New Year’s resolutions, our promise to improve ourselves or our situation. But, too often, we fall short of those goals the first time. We must try and try again.

New year, new you

Three Stark County people share inspiring stories about how they improved their lives in 2008 — and their plans to build on their successes in 2009.

The new year brings the promise of new opportunities. Annually, we make our New Year’s resolutions, our promise to improve ourselves or our situation. But, too often, we fall short of those goals the first time. We must try and try again.

Meet three Stark County residents who set formidable goals for themselves and spent years navigating the obstacles in their path. They will greet 2009 with a renewed peace of mind, a changed body and a strengthened soul.

Mind: Yasmine El-Bodewi

A dizzying after-school schedule threatened to derail Yasmine El-Bodewi from her studies. High school speech-and-debate practices during the week and competitions on the weekend. There was Key Club, German Club, Interact Club, Booster Club, Student Council meetings, student ambassador duties and volunteer commitments at Aultman Hospital and Habitat for Humanity.

Classes at Jackson High School weren’t the concern. She maintained good grades there. But the mounting course load at Jackson, along with her extracurricular activities, left little time for the after-school math and reading programs at the Kumon Math and Reading Center of Massillon. It would be easy to give up; the Kumon courses aren’t required.

But El-Bodewi wanted to finish, for sentimental reasons. She has three younger sisters who followed her into the Kumon programs. She didn’t want to disappoint them or her parents, who came from cultures where girls are denied education. El-Bodewi’s father is from Lebanon; her mother is from Indonesia.

“Their education system isn’t very good. It’s very subjective, and it’s hard for girls to succeed in schools,” El-Bodewi said. “That’s why my parents have always been big for education. They say we should value education, and value the opportunities that we have been given.”

But mostly, El-Bodewi wanted to finish Kumon’s curriculum because she already had invested so much time in the program. She started it in kindergarten. El-Bodewi went to Kumon for a year before family and work pressures forced her parents to reluctantly pull her from the program. She returned three years later as a fourth-grader and performed well.

El-Bodewi, who took her lessons home to study on the weekends, was able to master each concept without much help from an instructor.

But as she grew older and busier, El-Bodewi began to question whether she would finish. She never quit, but suspended her studies a few times.

“I was busy, and I got frustrated because it was hard to keep up with it,” El-Bodewi said.

Kumon instructor Sheila Lahoti urged El-Bodewi to take the lessons in smaller bites, telling her, ‘You can do a little bit less, but don’t quit.”

El-Bodewi finished the reading program first. Math proved more demanding.

This past summer, El-Bodewi saw an opportunity to finish the program.

“I had a lot of downtime,” she said. “I would get up at 10 or 11 and do it in the morning. … I would do a little bit every day.”

In August, El-Bodewi, 17, mastered Kumon’s math program.

“It was worth it. It definitely had an impact on my math. I’ve become really good at it.”

She plans to put her advanced math skills to work as a physician some day. Or maybe as a businesswoman. Or a psychologist. She hasn’t decided yet.

“I think no matter where I go, math is going to be a big part of my life,” El-Bodewi said. “That’s fine by me because I enjoy it.”

She hopes to attend the Ohio State University next year. She will graduate from Jackson High School in May.


Kumon, founded in 1958 in Japan, is an after-school math and reading program that gradually develops the fundamental skills needed to master high-school-level math and reading comprehension. The curriculum consists of hundreds of short assignments organized into a progression that allows students to advance at their own pace rather than by age or grade level. For more information about Kumon and to contact the two local Kumon centers, visit


Body: Debbie Koyle

Debbie Koyle waited to tell any of her friends about her life-changing decision until the night before it began. Sitting at a table at Perennial Vineyards, she looked at the Americano pizza sitting before her with its pepperoni, salami, sausage, pancetta and roasted peppers.

“This is my last meal,” she announced.

The next day, Koyle explained, she would start Aultman Hospital’s mostrigid weight loss program. For 10 months, she would drink three replacement meals a day instead of consuming food.

The 5-foot-7-inch Perry Township resident wanted to lose more than 100 pounds — down to a size she hadn’t seen since school. That meant their weekly dinner meet-ups would change. She still would attend, but she would order a Diet Coke instead of a meal.

“They didn’t say much at first, probably because they thought it was a passing phase,” Koyle said.

It was true that Koyle had read nearly every diet book published and still attended at least one Weight Watchers meeting a year.

“I would go to the meetings, pay the money and listen to what they said,” Koyle said. “Then, I would go home and do what I wanted anyway.”

Sometimes, she’d lose some weight. But then, she’d get comfortable.

“I would think, ‘Oh, it’s just 5 pounds. I can lose 5 pounds,’” Koyle said. “Then, it was 25 pounds. By that time, you aren’t even paying attention.”

Koyle had read brochures for Aultman’s weight-loss plans two years before she tried it. Initially, Koyle, then a chief financial officer for the Girls Scouts Great Trail Council, thought no one “in the real world” could keep up with such a demanding program.

It was a woman at Koyle’s church who tried Aultman’s program that made her reconsider.

“I knew this woman had a real job and didn’t always eat the best,” Koyle said. “If she could do this, then maybe I could.”

It was July 2007. Koyle weighed 275 pounds.

Of Aultman’s three weight management programs, Koyle chose its New Direction program, which reduced her food intake to three beverages a day.

“I knew if I had food to eat, I’d eat everything,” she said.

Surprisingly, she wasn’t hungry, and the immediate weight loss motivated her to stick with the program.

“She was definitely in it for the lifestyle change, not just a quick fix,” said dietitian Tiffany Evans, who monitored Koyle’s progress. After 13 months, Koyle lost 110 pounds.

“I didn’t know how bad I felt until I lost the weight,” said Koyle, 52. “I didn’t realize how hard it was to go up steps because I thought it was like that for everybody.”

Koyle, hired in October as Arts in Stark’s business manager, has maintained her weight loss by tracking what she eats, attending follow-up programs and exercising.

In May, she wants to walk in a half-marathon — that’s 13.1 miles — and ride the bike she bought at a garage sale years ago.

“I’m looking forward to being more active and not holding myself back because I’m worried about what other people may think,” Koyle said.

Koyle still likes to eat out with her friends, but she also meets them for walks now. Some have said she has inspired them.

“That also helps my motivation, because I don’t want to let them down,” she said.


Visit to learn more about Aultman Hospital’s weight management programs. You also can try Aultman’s online calculators that help measure body mass, calorie intake, desirable body weight and nutritional needs.


Soul: Sheldon Brown

Sheldon Brown waited in the church office alone. In fewer than 20 minutes, Brown would know whether packing up his life in Florida and returning home to Canton was the right decision.

He had loved his job in Florida as a mega church’s youth pastor. But God told him that he needed to come home. That his hometown city needed him. That he needed to start a new church that would inspire Stark County families.

Brown, a minister since 2000, arrived in Canton in May. Nearly two months later, he found himself in the office of his new church, Breath of Life Christian Center, preparing for his first sermon.

He tried to act calm. But like a boxer before a fight, the 6-foot-2-inch teddy bear of a man felt a nervous, almost electric, energy that kept him from sitting still. He sat to reread his notes. Then stood to think. He debated whether he should peek outside. Was anyone out there?

Brown remembered a Christmas service in 2004 at his storefront church in Winter Haven, Fla. His mother had visited that week to hear his sermon.

But nobody showed for the service.

“I looked at my mom. She had tears in her eyes, like she was saying, ‘I know you didn’t leave home for this,’” said Brown, who closed the 2-year-old church in 2005.

Brown sat in the office chair again and dropped his head to pray. He heard his assistant, Philipe Weeden, slide open the door. It was time.

His wife, Shala, began the introduction, “Let’s put our hands together…”

Brown stood again, his heart racing slightly. His new congregation awaited him on the other side of the door.

Brown stepped into the nave, and looked around him. He smiled. People packed the pews. Some sat in folding chairs that were brought in to accommodate the overflow. More than 100 people attended.

“I saw all those people and it was a dream come true,” Brown said. “All the hearsay and everything from before, that was all dead. At that moment, I knew I was doing what I was supposed to do.”

That was in July. Breath of Life outgrew its location on McKinley Avenue SW three months later, and moved to the Seventh Day Adventist Church. More than 100 people still attend the Sunday afternoon services, Brown said.

“I needed this to strengthen my faith as well,” Brown said.

Brown hopes to reach an even bigger congregation next year — including members who might never walk through the church’s doors. He wants to develop outreach programs in schools and throughout the community.

“People need to know what a pastor is outside of church,” Brown said.

He eventually wants to host services at the Canton Memorial Civic Center where people from many different cultures, races, ethnicities and beliefs could sit together in fellowship.

“Because at the end of the day, I don’t want to be a great black pastor,” Brown said. “I want to be a great pastor. The city doesn’t need a great black church. It needs a great church.”


Breath of Life Christian Center Seventh Day Adventist Church
3700 38th St. NW, Plain Twp.
Services: 12:30 p.m. Sundays; Midweek meal at 7 p.m.Thursdays.
Web site:


Be Realistic Don’t try to set a goal that is too drastic or unattainable. Making a resolution that you have been unable to achieve for years is not a wise idea either. Most likely you will end up disappointed. Instead, you should alter it to make it more realistic. For example, instead of losing 30 pounds, aim for 15.

Plan Ahead If you wait until Dec. 31, your resolution will most likely be based on your mind-set that day or what is bothering you at that moment. It is best to really think about what commitments you want to make and keep.

Talk About It Let people know the goal you’re setting for yourself. Having a support group of friends and family for encouragement will keep you going when the going gets tough. Also, you might find someone who is pursuing the same resolution as you. Together the two of you can embark on the resolution so you don’t have to do it alone.

Reward Yourself You can still have some treats along the way. If you are going on a diet, it is still okay to eat some chocolate or a piece of cake every now and again. As you reach certain milestones, reward your progress.

Keep Track of Your Progress For large goals, you want to make tiny goals along the way, so it will seem less intimidating. Therefore, you can see yourself making progress. Be sure to monitor yourself, and the more feedback you get, the better you will do.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up It’s okay to slip a couple times. Nobody is perfect. Just remember to get back on track.

Focus on One Issue Take the most pressing resolution at hand and concentrate on that. Nobody can make several big changes in their life simultaneously. That will usually ensure failure across the board. If you have 3-4 resolutions, you will be spreading yourself too thin.

Take Time to Reflect Think about what you really want and where you want to go with your life and resolution. We are already at a disadvantage trying to make a commitment to something we feel we NEED to do compared to what we really WANT to do.

Visualize Yourself Making the Change The mind is a very powerful part in the process. Resolutions like dieting and exercise are not only hard physically, but mentally as well. We need to take the time to relax and be calm to think about our choice and the game plan to get there.

Experts say it takes about 21 days for a new activity, such as exercising, to become a habit, and 6 months for it to become part of your personality.


Most diets last an average of five weeks, said Tiffany Evans, registered dietitian at Aultman Weight Management. She believes most dieters lose their motivation because they don’t see instant results.

“A one- or two-pound weight loss isn’t that motivating. But they have to realize, how quickly did (the pounds) come on? It wasn’t overnight.”

Evans gives these tips for sustaining weight loss:
 Realize it is a lifestyle change. It helps if the entire family gets involved.
 Exercise.Three to four 45-minutes sessions a week is ideal. Include cardiovascular, weight training and stretching.
 Reduce portion sizes. It comes down to calorie balance, how many calories you eat versus how many calories your body burns.


Lose weight
Save money/ manage debt
Get a better job
Get fit/ eat right
Get a better education
Quit smoking
Reduce stress
Volunteer to help others