The Leadership Council for Healthy Communities (LCHC) was founded to bring health promotion resources, “to the faith community, by the faith community.” LCHC’s Healthy Ties That Bind coalition gives the faith-based organization, often a central establishment in the African-American community, the essential role of reinforcing the provider/clinic linkage to the communities that bear the largest burden of diabetes, CVD, and stroke.
Faith institutions within the coalition realized the need was great for their congregation, but also unique in what issues and messaging would work. In Ward 4’s First Baptist Church, Rev. Tucker knew that “to have a healthier congregation and to reduce the impact of disease and sickness,” he had “to have them more informed and increase their involvement in going to the doctor.” In a addition to weekly health messages from the pulpit, he also encouraged his leadership and ongoing health ministry to conduct health fairs, health seminars, health walks and group exercise. He has run a “campaign to dump the plump,” asking the community to measure their weight and see how much the congregation could lose as a group.
In Ward 8, access to healthy food and clinical services were the biggest concern. Covenant Baptist UCC began a food bank that now serves an average of 500 families each month, as many as 1,300 individuals. “As part of our evangelism ministry, we have the food bank where we have a captive audience,” said Health Coordinator Deirdre Jordan, who uses the opportunity each Thursday morning to distribute health awareness and prevention materials. She also works with community partners to bring in resources, including Community of Hope clinic, which came to the church three days a week until just recently when it opened a permanent facility a block away.
Your Involvement Is Key
LCHC has built an alliance of more than 70 faith leaders as well as health professionals throughout the Washington area to address the high prevalence of chronic disease in the African-American community. Be part of this healing network, which has a multiplier effect and reaches thousands of District residents from the pulpits.
“There is a greater consciousness of people in terms of their living habits and eating habits,” said Rev. Tucker. “A greater sensitivity to seeing their doctors at an early stage – a growing awareness that it is important for us to look after our health.” And the awareness is slowly translating into a healthier community. The latest data shows that adult obesity in the District is down 2 percentage points from its peak in 2011, and diabetes is down .7 percentage points in that time period. The disparity by race is still extremely present, however; in 2014, 34.7% of African Americans were obese throughout D.C.
The role the faith-based institution plays in our target communities differs from other programs because it becomes a central pivot for trusted information dissemination and peer bonds and networks that encourage and support. Faith leaders are trusted authorities in their community and offer a primary communications platform for dissemination and reach into the community.
To sustain educational messaging around health, nutrition and physical activity and encourage behavior change, the community members need avenues for application. Health Ties That Bind is encouraging food retail outlets to be places to ‘practice’ recommendations to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and choose lower sodium options; neighborhoods and public spaces to be places to ‘practice’ getting 30 minutes of moderate physical activity. Health clinics and hospitals will serve as connection points as well as support in ‘practicing’ self-management of your health profile. We are working toward an organized method that provides constant reinforcement and reduces barriers to better health.