Category: Saving Lives Leadership Academy

Plum Grove Baptist Church Hosts Healthy Eating Expo

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By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Fellow

Plum Grove Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa hosted more than 200 people for a Healthy Eating Expo on Aug. 11. The project grew out of the church’s ongoing efforts to educate its members on health disparities and making healthy choices.

“It’s indescribable that what began as a very embryonic effort to be informative to church members has morphed into serious and really impactful community outreach,” said the Rev. Tyshawn Gardner, pastor of Plum Grove.

“What’s so phenomenal,” he said, “when it started, we were just promoting information within the congregation and now it has grown beyond the four walls of the church to include the community. But not just the community where we are. There is a very diverse group here — both participating and being a part of it. That’s what’s amazing.”

Gardner is referring to his church’s decision to become a founding partner in what today is The University of Alabama’s Saving Lives Initiative, the brainchild of UA Community Affairs Vice President Dr. Samory T. Pruitt. The initiative began in 2012 and is implemented by the Division’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP).

Saving Lives works to reduce health disparities by encouraging churches to discuss health issues while providing educational resources and coaching to help them incorporate health information into their existing outreach and spiritual activities.

“For years we have had a foothold in the community. That’s really our mission and our vision, to impact and empower our community and our people,” Gardner said. “So, this is a very needed and necessary extension of what we were already doing.”

In the process, Saving Lives has been transformed into an effective tool for sharing information to spread knowledge, truly saving lives, according to UA and community leaders.

Under Dr. Nicole B. Prewitt, CCBP’s director of programs and partnerships for Community Engagement, Saving Lives has evolved from providing health-related curricula for Bible study groups to the creation of a leadership academy, which empowers members in small groups to initiate new programs within their church with the purpose of training members to take responsibility for their own health and their families’ health.

During the free Saturday event at Plum Grove, more than two dozen vendors performed live cooking demonstrations, provided healthy recipes and samples, and conducted an aerobics training demonstration. A registered dietitian and physician were also present to provide advice. There was also a kids’ kitchen and prayer booth and prayer wall.

The Expo was coordinated by Plum Grove members Javelin Lewis and Shaunta Sanders, who serve as Saving Lives advocates.

“I like being able to help people,” said Lewis, explaining why she decided to participate in the advocate training program. Then to see these efforts result in “people actually putting forth some effort and watch what they eat … was exciting,” she said.

Lewis said planning the event allowed the advocates to combine the three Saving Lives components — physical activity, health information, and nutrition — with the church’s mission of spiritual outreach.

“This is an opportunity to be able to come in and taste the healthy food and see that it does taste good,” said Lewis, referring to opportunities for attendees to try new tastes like hummus and yogurt parfait, along with items from Tuscaloosa’s Juice Bar and Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe. “It doesn’t have to be bland and you don’t have to use fat back, lard and ham hock. You don’t have to put all that salt in it.”

She said the church hoped to expose the community to healthy options, while simultaneously providing health care information related to diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, HIV and more.

“There are so many alternatives to frying and to seasoning and the food is good and healthy for you,” Lewis said.

Team member Sanders is a nursing student at the University of West Alabama. She said what she learned during the Expo supported what she is learning in nursing school and helped her develop a connection between health and care giving.

“I’m going to school to be a nurse and I’m going to be saving lives,” Sanders said. “This helps bring God and my faith into my work.”

Sanders said she knew the Expo would draw a crowd to the church. “I thought we might have too many people. Everybody loves to eat,” she said.

Gardner said he is proud to have his church participate in such a dynamic initiative.

“To see it on this level is nothing short of amazing and we are very grateful to God and to The University of Alabama and people like Dr. Pruitt.” He said. “Sometimes when things do not flourish as soon as you would like, there is a temptation to abandon it to try something else. So, I want to just thank the churches involved, our church and Dr. Pruitt’s office for their stick-to-it-ness. As you can see and hear we are off and running.”

Saving Lives is under the direction of Dr. Nicole B. Prewitt, director of programs and partnerships for community engagement in the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, an initiative of the Division of Community Affairs. To learn more about the program, email or call 205-348-9819.

Saving Lives Leadership Academy, Mount Pilgrim Church Co-Sponsor Program on Advance Directives, Wills, Hospice Care

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By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Fellow

Too often families leave no written instructions concerning the final wishes of their loved ones because they do not want to talk about chronic illness, dying or death.

Members of Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa recognized this problem and hosted “Let’s Talk” on Saturday, Aug. 11 to provide information to the congregation concerning advance directives, wills and hospice care.

The program combined a nutritious breakfast with health information and physical activity, all part of the church’s participation in The University of Alabama’s Saving Lives Leadership Academy, sponsored by the Division of Community Affairs and its Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP), which partners with churches to educate the community regarding critical health issues.

“I like this project because the topic of advance directives and planning is not always discussed within churches,” said Dr. Nicole B. Prewitt, CCBP director of programs and partnerships. “This team decided to start the conversation with families about planning, about hospice care, and about making decisions that can impact the entire family.”

Birmingham attorney Kelvin W. Howard discussed three legal documents everyone should have: a will, a power of attorney and a medical directive. He explained that when tragedy strikes and a person is on life-support, the family faces tough decisions.

“Nobody wants to make the decision to say I’m going to pull the plug on mama today,” Howard said. “I encourage my clients to take that pressure off your family and love your family enough to sit down and write down your wishes.”

He advised people to seek legal advice, but said putting things down on paper is a good start. However, he told them to choose the person they could trust the most when deciding who to give authority to make medical and financial decisions in their stead or absence.

“The next time you do this, invite a friend. They need to hear this. They need to know this,” Howard said, explaining that he is consulted regularly about advance directives and powers of attorney after the person is incapacitated and there is nothing legally he can do to help. “I’m grateful that you all are creating an environment to change a mindset.”

The program organizers explained that the talk doesn’t have to happen over one evening, but people need to be open and honest about their wishes concerning cremation or burial, as well as how they feel about resuscitation and depending on machines to live.

“Attorney Howard has given us some good instructions we need to act on,” said Mount Pilgrim Pastor Frank Kennedy Sr., who said he planned to ask Howard to return to discuss these topics with the entire congregation.

Another topic was hospice care. Years ago when people talked about hospice care, said Mount Pilgrim Saving Lives advocate Valerie Cleveland, who helped organize the event, “People thought someone was getting ready to die. But hospice services have changed. We need to let people know that these services are available.”

Hospice services have expanded to include helping those who suffer from illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Cleveland said, adding that the service should be viewed as additional support for the family as well as other members of their medical team.  Additionally, she said many people do not know that hospice provides medical supplies, which the family may be paying for out-of-pocket.

“You can have hospice services in a hospice facility, you can have services in your home, and you can have hospice services in the nursing home,” said Cleveland, a nursing home social worker. “It’s more eyes on that resident, and it is a big support for the family because hospice will be with that family for months after someone dies. They have chaplains; they have social workers; they have nurses.”

Saving Lives is under the direction of Dr. Nicole B. Prewitt, director of programs and partnerships for community engagement in the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, an initiative of the Division of Community Affairs. To learn more about the program, email or call 205-348-9819.

Saving Lives Academy, Capstone College of Nursing Collaborate to Bring Health Message to People of Color at Benville Baptist Church in Cottondale

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By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Assistant

Because the medication of tomorrow will be tailored to individuals, it is important that minorities take part in research so that advancements can include drugs that are unique to people of different cultures, ethnic backgrounds and geographical locations. This is the message health providers gave to attendees at an All of Us Research Program event at Benville Missionary Baptist Church in Cottondale on July 7.

During a presentation on precision medicine, attendees were encouraged to give research participation a try.

“Precision medicine is an emerging approach to fighting disease-specific problems. It’s a radical shift from what we are doing now,” said Colleen Leners, director of policy at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing in Washington, D.C. “We are looking not only at your lifestyle, but your environment, as well as your genetic profile.”

Leners came to Alabama to help people of color understand there must never be another study like the unethical Tuskegee Syphilis Study conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service on African-American men during five decades beginning in 1932.

Instead, she explained, unless people of color participate in research, there will be no breakthroughs in healthcare related to diseases unique to them.

“What we are hoping to do with this data is to make medications that work for you. It’s the right medication for the right person,” said Leners, a former military nurse practitioner. “We don’t give everyone the same set of eye glasses. We don’t give everybody the same blood. So, why are we giving everybody the same blood pressure medication and the same dosage?”

Often people of color, she said, do not respond to medication and they lose time and money on treatments that do not work for them. “We didn’t do the research on people of color. Most medications today are tailored to white males ages 40 to 65 because that is where the majority of the research has been done,” she said.

All of Us is a large data collection research campaign aimed at gathering information on one million people of color. “We want to get this information to people of color to see if they would like to get involved in research,” Leners said. “They have been isolated and haven’t been asked to participate; and when they have been asked, quite frankly, it always hasn’t been fair.” (For more about the All of Us Research Program, see

Annette Harris, who has been a registered nurse for more than 20 years, is one of the Saving Lives Advocates for Benville. In order to complete Benville’s Saving Lives Academy project, she said she wanted to bring the research presentation to the church as a new outreach initiative.

“The church is a foundation in the community for getting information out to the public,” Harris said. “It’s been slow-go, but we’re getting there.”

Dr. Betty Key and Dr. Mercy Mumba, assistant professors of nursing instruction, wrote a grant to work with the National Institutes of Health to help bring the All of Us program to the faith-based community in the Tuscaloosa area. The program was brought to Benville through collaboration with UA’s Capstone College of Nursing.

“We both are looking at cardiovascular research using faith-based organizations,” Key said. “We saw it as a good way to get more African-Americans involved in research, so that African-Americans will have a seat at the table regarding healthcare because it does matter.”

Saving Lives is under the direction of Dr. Nicole B. Prewitt, director of programs and partnerships for community engagement in the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, an initiative of the Division of Community Affairs. To learn more about the program, email or call 205-348-9819.

College Hill Baptist Church Conducts Wellness Clinic With Help of Local Medical Institutions

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By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Assistant

As part of its participation in the Saving Lives Academy program, College Hill Baptist Church featured a wellness clinic during its Alberta Community Extravaganza on July 14, 2018.

The church invited specialists from the DCH Regional Medical Center, Maude Whatley Health Services, Inc, Five Horizons Health Services (formerly West Alabama AIDS Outreach) and other area medical personnel to provide valuable health information to the community during the annual festival.

College Hill is one of the founding partners of Saving Lives, an outreach of The University of Alabama’s Division of Community Affairs and its Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP). Saving Lives has recently expanded to include training church members to be leaders in health advocacy.

“God does not dwell in an unclean place or unhealthy places. So we want to make sure that our bodies are healthy,” said College Hill pastor Rev. Kelvin Croom, “Believe it or not, that is one way that Satan attacks God’s people. Sometimes you can get so busy that you can forget about the physical part. With no physical house, there is no spiritual house.”

Croom said the church attempts to incorporate healthy choices in all of its outreach and leadership activities. The church does this by making healthy choices in food preparation for all its events and by adding exercise opportunities.

“We’ve always done outreach,” said Croom. “This is a means of evangelizing outside of the walls of the church. What we’re doing here today is an opportunity to give back to the community.”

The day before the festival, the church conducted a blood drive. Croom’s son, Kevin Croom, has organized a youth basketball league.

The younger Croom said that after the 2011 tornado, Alberta City underwent significant changes. “The area has a lot of homeless people and they come to the church all the time and I talk to them because I’m here a lot. Many of them have lost their insurance or don’t have insurance,” he said. “So, today I have invited them to come out so they can at least learn how to get free medicine or where to get health care services.”

Javis Lanier serves as a Saving Lives advocate for College Hill and was instrumental in organizing the health fair. “I love being a part of Saving Lives because of the compassion to help people gain knowledge,” he said. “I have learned things that I can incorporate into my daily life and share with others, such as what foods not to eat, how to exercise and how to recognize disease signs and symptoms.”

He said the church decided this year to fold the health fair into the community festival in an effort to reach more people.

“We are trying to engage the community with something fun, but also include healthcare screenings, something serious,” said Lanier.

Healthcare professionals provided information about HIV/AIDS, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, heat related illnesses, cancer and pregnancy. In addition, people could get their blood pressure and weight checked.

“We’re always looking at a means of giving back to the community, but we also need to have fun as Christians,” the Rev. Croom said.

Saving Lives is an initiative led by Dr. Nicole B. Prewitt, CCBP director of programs and partnerships in the Division of Community Affairs. To learn more about the program, contact her at or at 205-348-9819.


Saving Lives Participants Launch “Senior Moments: Life Management Ministry”

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By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Assistant

New Zion Missionary Baptist Church, in cooperation with UA’s Saving Lives Academy, is holding workshops designed to inform the congregation about good health and wellness practices. In June the church launched “Senior Moments: Life Management Ministry” to provide tools for members aged 50 and over to become healthier in mind, body and spirit.

The new ministry is a result of the church’s participation in the Center for Community-Based Partnerships’ Saving Lives program. Saving Lives is piloting a Saving Lives Academy, which conducts workshops to show church members how to foster healthy living activities.

“We were so fortunate to have this leadership academy training from The University of Alabama,” said participant Letrell Peoples. “This has been a journey. I knew this was something we needed to do and all of you being here today is just awesome.”

More than 30 people participated in the first of what is scheduled to become monthly workshops. The program included presentations from two health professionals.

Christina Pierpaoli Parker, a fifth-year doctoral student in UA’s clinical geropsychology program, talked about how life gets better with age. “I’m so excited to be here because I know in my bones through my clinical work that this is how change happens,” Parker said. “It happens when one person decides to start making positive changes in their lives, and then that person influences another person, and that person influences another person. Over time, not only do you have a healthier person and a healthier family, but you have healthier communities.”

She discussed how people are living longer and finding more satisfaction with age because of improved health, increased financial stability and reduced stress.

Dr. Beth Tobing-Ruiz, a nephrologist specializing in kidney function and diseases such as kidney-related hypertension, was invited by New Zion to discuss holistic medical care and answered questions from the audience. “My interest is in the empowerment of patients, the education of the patient, and providing information to the patient,” Tobing-Ruiz said. She advised participants to ask their doctors questions and not be afraid to see a specialist or to get a second opinion.

As healthcare costs escalate, according to Tobing-Ruiz, medical professionals are studying the benefits of treatments such as acupuncture, prayer and yoga to create a new form of integrative medical treatment. “In this day and age you have to look at not just one possibility, but multiple possibilities. With aging comes good things and bad things. But it would be nice if the medical community would educate us on what to look for, how to prevent bad things, so that you will reap the benefit as you get older.”

Participants said they enjoyed the new ministry and said they looked forward to the next workshop. “I came today because I wanted more information that will help me as I age,” said Ann Brown. “It was really informative and I learned how important eight hours of sleep is to your overall health.”

Rev. Greg Morris, New Zion Missionary Baptist Church’s pastor, said he believes the meeting was a good start to what will become an enriching experience for his parishioners. “This church has had a pretty long-standing relationship with the Saving Lives Program and I wanted us to continue that,” said Morris, pastor at New Zion for the past five years.

Bobbie J. McKinney called the health session a “prefect addition” to the noon Bible Study.

“I need to know all I can about heathy living because I have high blood pressure and arthritis,” she said. “You get around other people and see what’s going on, ask questions and learn a lot.”

Mt. Zion’s next meeting in the “Senior Moments: Life Management Ministry” is scheduled for July 25 at 12:30 p.m.

Saving Lives is under the direction of Dr. Nicole Prewitt, director of programs and partnerships for community engagement at the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, an initiative of UA’s Division of Community Affairs.