Nashira Betton, 13, slipped her hands into a bowl of glistening, warmed wax.
"Oh my, I didn't know it was supposed to be so warm," she said, as she slowly exhaled and sunk into her chair. "It feels really nice and relaxing."
After the wax cooled a little, Brenda Saunders, a certified reflexologist with the Focus on Healing Wellness Services, sat toe-to-toe with the Beltsville teenager, peeling back the wax and kneeding pressure points on her knuckles, thumb tips and palms.
"We'll see how relaxed she is the rest of the day," said Saunders, noting that reflexology applies pressure to specific points on the hands and feet to relieve physical stress throughout the body.
Saunders's hands-on exhibit was among several dozen at Saturday's Summer Health Fest 1999 at Prince George's Community College in Largo. Others included neck massage, chiropractic sessions, health screenings, skin care treatments and a blood drive.
The festival, the first of its kind in the county, was organized by the college, the Suitland Family and Life Enrichment Center and the Maryland Black Mayors Inc. The goal was to focus the attention of African Americans, particularly those in the inner-Beltway towns and cities where minority populations are highest, on health care.
Life expectancy and overall health for many African Americans is not as good as that of their white counterparts, according to a recent U.S. surgeon general's report, which in part prompted Saturday's event. Income levels also play a role in such disparities.
Eight municipalities are being targeted by the festival's organizers for future disease prevention and health promotion programs: Bladensburg, Capitol Heights, District Heights, Fairmount Heights, Glenarden, Landover Hills, North Brentwood and Seat Pleasant.
It was also an opportunity to showcase for-profit vendors in the county who showed off their wares and services. Although some demonstrations were tailored to the tired and stressed out, such as the reflexology station, others got the blood pumping.
The day started with a mile walk, and aerobics and kick-boxing instructors led classes in a courtyard.
"The main question people are asking me is how long is it going to take to get fit," said Samuel Scott, a self-defense and kick-boxing instructor who runs the Full Circle Martial Arts Academy in Capitol Heights.
Many of the 200 or so people who visited the day-long health fair seemed interested in taking Scott's "Street Survival" classes, but they want to get good fast, without putting in the time, he said. His course meets twice a week and runs for about six weeks.
"It's very intense," he said. "The idea is to keep the person in the storm . . . to get them to the point where they feel like their life is on the line."
Another popular spot at the festival was the Prince George's County Health Department's HIV and AIDS education table. Handing out "Sex and You" fliers and hundreds of condoms for men and women, the counselors at the table said they talked to dozens of teenagers about sexually transmitted diseases.
"To be blunt, they need to hear what we're saying," said Dean Cooks, 48, a counselor with the health department from Fairmount Heights. "They are at risk."
The festival also included workshops on topics such as breast cancer prevention, healthy eating, exercise, mental health for mothers, vitamins, domestic violence prevention, asthma and aromatherapy.
Event organizer Tanya Madison, a lawyer in the District who grew up in the county, said the day was a "wonderful success" and a first step toward other activities such as community forums to talk about health care policy on the local and national levels.
"Everyone needs to be a little bit more health conscious," said Michael Teel, a health outreach worker with the health department. "This promotes healthy habits, community spirit and friendship in the county."
CAPTION: Community College President Ronald A. Williams, left, explains a shoulder problem to Lorenzo D. Austin.
CAPTION: Earl Page, dressed as Paco the Clown, hands out health literature to Vera Thompson, holding her 1-year-old, India, with her other child, Keturah, 4, by her side.