Saving Lives Celebrates First Year with Appreciation Dinner

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By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Assistant

When Dr. Samory T. Pruitt, vice president for community affairs at The University of Alabama, envisioned the Saving Lives program, he not only wanted a program that would promote healthy living in Alabama, but also a faith-based program that could be a model for all kinds of communities, urban and rural, throughout the nation.

"What better place to offer a health education program than within faith communities," Pruitt said at the Saving Lives Appreciation Dinner attended by a large crowd at the Bryant Conference Center on December 6.

Pruitt and several speakers used the occasion to look back on the first year's progress and forward into 2013.

For the past year, three Tuscaloosa churches, involving several hundred members of all ages, have participated in the program by taking advantage of a curriculum and professional speakers to offer workshops where members of the congregations are taught how spiritual health can contribute to physical health.

The Rev. Tyshawn Gardner expressed his enthusiasm about the program and how his Plum Grove Baptist Church congregation, along with First African Baptist Church and College Hill Baptist Church, will continue their participation in 2013.

Gardner said the program has taught his church family "how important our health is in service to our Lord. We are blessed and honored to be a part of it. From day one, it's been an exciting time. We look forward to those Wednesday nights of information sharing and participation."

Georgia White and Mary Brooks are the advocates, or program coordinators, for First African Baptist Church. "We have learned a lot together," said White, a retired nurse. "It is important for us, especially as African Americans, to know what is going on with us," acknowledging that African-Americans lead the country in high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

"This initiative has just shown us ways to counteract that and to help us along the way," White said. She praised the University for organizing the program and for selecting the three churches as partners.

Dr. Rebecca Kelly, the director of Health Promotion and Wellness at UA, will be the first speaker of 2013 for each group. "As we move forward and think about Saving Lives, I'd really like you to think about what impact this has had on our lives," said Kelly, a nutritionist and exercise physiologist and one member of a team of University researchers working on the project.

In February and August health screenings will be conducted at each church. "The screening is the first step to making a positive lifestyle change," said Dr. Martha Crowther, associate professor and director of clinical psychology at UA who is also a member of the research team. "That's why the February session is really important. It's where we conduct the first baseline health screenings. Six months later, another health screening will allow participants to see their progress.

"You can see midway how the changes are impacting your scores," said Crowther. "By completing your health screenings, you will gain insight of your health risks." In addition to personalized health information based on their scores, participants will benefit from the health care knowledge that can be shared and taught to generations to come.

"We want to use this data as a model for the country," said researchers Dr. Pamela Payne Foster, the deputy director of the Community and Rural Medicine Institute for Rural Health Research at UA. "Health disparities are major issues, particularly for African- Americans, and particularly in the South."

In Alabama more than 400,000 people suffer from diabetes, while 200,000 more have the disease and do not know it. Hundreds of thousands more suffer from heart disease, stroke, cancer and other chronic diseases affecting African Americans disproportionately.

"We are focusing on really addressing chronic conditions," Foster said. "These conditions are preventable and we know they are. We know if we knew what to do, we would do it. We know that the strategies to address these issues are complex, but we have to really try to get at them to delay health deterioration and to address the problems that people confront in their day to day lives "¦ to get them to take charge of their health."

Foster said faith-based approaches are especially important in reaching African-American communities. "There's power in the church. There's power particularly in the black church," Foster said. "So, we are really excited that this can be a model for other places in the country."

A full schedule of activities has been planned for 2013, said Carol Agomo, program coordinator in Dr. Pruitt's office. Participants will be reminded via email, telephone and the Saving Lives website,