It all started with teamwork and a grant.

On Nov. 4, the UF Medical Guild awarded the Helping Hands Clinic of Gainesville $2,400 to use for anti-tobacco treatment. Now, Cathy Cook is about two weeks into her monthly “Quit Smoking Now” class.

Cook, a certified tobacco specialist, is the lead system change coordinator for the Suwannee River Area Health Education Center. In collaboration with Helping Hands, she provides students with a mixture of education and nicotine replacement therapy.

“These are the people we need to offer our services to: people who are homeless, or near homeless, yet really addicted,” she said.  

Seven people participated in the November class. When the program ended, five students had dramatically decreased their tobacco use and three others remained tobacco-free after the class, Cook said.

“Big Mike” Powell smoked a pack or more every day for 38 years before joining the program. 

After completing the first class, he was awarded a bike that he now uses as his only form of transportation.

He decided to come back in January — this time to set an example.

“My daughter still smokes,” he said. “I blame myself pretty much for that. I smoked around her while she was growing up.”

Powell is currently unemployed and said he considers himself homeless.

“I have a roof over my head, but that’s about it,” he said.

Since completing Cook’s class, Powell smokes three to four cigarettes per week, sometimes stopping for up to 10 days.

“I think the best part of class is that everyone gets to share their own experiences, and a lot of them touch home,” he said.

Cook said she plans to hold the monthly classes for new and returning students until she runs out of grant money.

“The thing about tobacco addiction is that it’s just like any other addiction, except maybe worse,” she said.

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