Category: Saving Lives

College Hill Baptist Church Playing Key Role in Saving Lives Program

By Kirsten J. Barnes

The April 2011 tornado may have torn down the walls of College Hill Baptist Church, but it did not break the spirit of the parishioners who worship there.

"The word of God teaches us that our body, mind and soul belong to Him," said the Rev. Kelvin Croom, pastor of the church temporarily meeting at University Church of Christ. "Our body is a dwelling place for his holy spirit and as a result of that we need to take care of it. One of the tricks of the devil is that he destroys the body; and if he destroys the body, he's won."

College Hill is one of three area churches, which recently partnered with the University of Alabama's Center for Community-Based Partnerships for a new initiative called "Saving Lives."

Saving Lives is a Community Affairs signature health care initiative. In the development of this wellness outreach program, community members and researchers collaborate to combine knowledge and action for social change to improve community health, reduce health disparities and increase health literacy.

Since January, the members of College Hill, Plum Grove and First African Baptist churches have been meeting once a month to discuss ways to become healthier physically as they grow spiritually.

In November, College Hill hosted Alabama Extension Agent Tera Glenn, whose work focuses on human nutrition, diet and health.

As the holidays approach, Glenn advised those attending the workshop not to make their stomachs the holiday wastebasket.

"Just because it's there, doesn't mean you have to eat it," Glenn told a group of about three dozen, advising them against snacking and sampling. "If it's enough to save, then save it. Don't let your stomach be the trash can."

Glenn said too often during holidays, people eat throughout the day and those who prepare the meals, nibble on broken cookies and food that stuck to the pan. In addition, she advised against perpetuating the "happy plate is a clean plate" phenomena.

"Get smaller plates," Glenn said. "Watch your portion size and exercise portion control."

The program targets minority groups as a way to help them combat poor eating habits with spiritual reinforcements so they can understand that God wants them to be more active so they can live fuller lives.

Croom knows first-hand the dangers of overeating. He changed his eating habits a year ago.

"I'm a prefect example, because I was killing myself by eating. Since a year ago I've lost right at 82 pounds," Croom said. "So, I know the value of good nutrition. This program was very timely."

At College Hill, Marcia Bailey and Jahnese Hobson are advocates for the program.

Bailey, who is a registered nurse, understands the importance of educating others about healthy lifestyles.

"When I looked at the information I thought it was something we could use," Bailey said of the Saving Lives curriculum. "Being a nurse, I felt it was something that would enlighten the church and help the membership."

So far, Saving Lives has attracted close to 50 people each month.

"We're working on our participation, but we're getting there," Bailey said. "We're still encouraging the members to come out to the meetings that we have."

Many people only think about diet changes for short periods of times, such as trying fade diets. Glenn advised against those and said instead people should opt for lifestyle changes.

College Hill Associate Pastor David Richardson said although he suffers from no known health problems, he still appreciates the information.

"Praise be to God, I'm completely healthy," Richardson said.

So far he's learned about diabetes, and the effects of age on weight gain.

"They also talked about how walking twice a day for 15 minutes can do so much for your cardiovascular system," Richardson said. "I have also implemented more discipline in my diet. In any area of life discipline is the key. The word disciple means disciplined one. The Bible tells us that you have to balance the physical with the spiritual."

The program is the brainchild of UA's Vice President of Community Affairs Samory Pruitt, who wanted to come up with a way to reach those who live in rural Alabama and inform them about things they can do to improve their quality of life physically and spiritually.

The three churches currently participating are part of a pilot program that will later spread to rural areas of Alabama.

"Somebody has got to say something, or we're going to eat ourselves to death," Pruitt said. "If you know better, you can do better."

Tameka Conwell has attended most of the meetings. She realizes she needs to make changes in her family's meal plan, but admits old habits are hard to break.

"I attended the session on stress and anxiety," said Conwell, adding that she has implemented some of the suggestions. However, she said implementing new portion sizes during the holidays would be difficult. "Follow up with me after the holidays and we'll see how I did."

First African Baptist Welcomes Saving Lives Program

By Kirsten J. Barnes

Graduate Student

Center for Community-Based Partnerships

In January the University of Alabama started Saving Lives, a faith-based partnership to increase health literacy and to support residents in rural and urban Alabama in attaining higher levels of health and wellness through the use of prudent health practices and scripture.

In addition to using theologically sound doctrine to support health care information and recommendations, the program helps area churches facilitate workshops on topics such as talking to your doctor, weight management, being familiar with and understanding medications, preventing and managing diabetes, and cooking healthy nutritional meals.

The Rev. Richard L. Morgan, pastor of First African Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, said he is pleased to offer the program to his congregation.

"It's great because it co-mingles what we try to do in our ministry," which Morgan calls "a holistic approach. We already had a wellness ministry going, but Saving Lives helps us to reinforce that part of the program. Because it's a scripture-based, it helps my parishioners take the word of God and apply it to their health issues."

First African Baptist pastor, the Rev. Richard L. Morgan, stands in the sanctuary of his church, which is one of three Tuscaloosa churches participating in a pilot faith-based health program.

The university purposely selected a scripture-based approach because of its compatibility with the existing religious and cultural norms of the state and nation. The initial pilot audience includes leaders and members in Tuscaloosa African American churches.

For Morgan's congregation of 500 people, he decided to use participation as a guide to measure the successfulness of the program. So far, his expectations have been met.

"Our goal was to get at least 50 participants each time. We've reached that goal," Morgan said. "We've gotten diversity in age and we've gotten some men and women. So, I'm pleased with what we've done. That shows how many people are really willing to get involved. Sometime with new ventures it's slow starting off, but this already seems to be building."

So far, First African has focused on reaching its members. However, Morgan said once they incorporate the information into its outreach ministry, his church will take the Saving Lives message to community centers and housing developments throughout the community.

"We're going to start to incorporate the program into our outreach ministry," said Morgan, adding that his congregation conducts monthly community outreach as an attempt to reach non-members.

This is exactly the kind of snowball effect that UA Vice President for Community Affairs Dr. Samory T. Pruitt hoped would occur when he envisioned the Saving Lives program.

"UA researchers and local pastors believe a combination of faith-based practices in collaboration with outreach and engagement scholarship strategies can contribute to an improvement in the overall health of Alabamians, reducing the risk of diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, hearth disease, cancer and stroke," said Pruitt.

The program will attempt to shed light on health care challenges facing 62 million rural citizens in the United States and the 2 million Alabamians who are dealing with a variety of health care and health insurance problems.

Ms. Tera Glenn, of Alabama Cooperative Extensions, demonstrates a healthy recipe option for members of First African Baptist Church.

Already, Morgan sees how the information is assisting his congregation, especially those battling high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, obesity and illnesses common to African Americans.

"Ministry should impact the life of the person. You've got to be able to reach the people where they are," Morgan said. "They want Christ, but they are dealing with other issues as well. Everyone does their six month or annual check-ups, but having this reinforcement every month helps."

The goal of the program is to reach as many churches and congregations as possible by providing them with a curriculum and the tools necessary to spread the word about health living.

"We want to empower faith-based leaders and congregational members to engage in activities that will enhance their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being," Pruitt said. "A second objective is for the University of Alabama to conduct research that will answer questions on the type of engagement strategies that can help eliminate health disparities among minorities, as well as rural and inner-city residents. A third objective is to implement strategies in rural communities to increase the overall health literacy of the program participants."

Christopher Spencer, director of Community Development for the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, hopes that by starting with First African Baptist, College Hill Baptist, and Plum Grove Baptist, UA will gain insight into how best to expand the program into additional congregations.

"Researchers will utilize the best practices from the first three churches to develop a strategic plan to include other ethnic, religious and geographic groups to include congregational members from synagogues, mosques and diverse faith-based organizations located in Alabama and across the nation," Spencer said.

Morgan believe the program has great potential for expansion, but thinks the program will work best for congregations led by forward-thinking ministers with outreach and teaching philosophies.

"Every ministry is different," Morgan said. "Some pastors may not see it as a need. For certain congregations it may not be a good fit, based on the pastor's guidance. But for those congregations that are more health conscious it will be an added tool, especially for those servant leaders who try to be role models. For them, this would be ideal."

"This program will give church leaders and university researchers an opportunity to complete the assessment on the pilot churches and to make any necessary adjustments prior to implementing the initiatives in rural communities," Pruitt said.