United Progressive Baptist Church is working hard to promote health in their congregation and their community. In the past, they have hosted successful health fairs that were very popular among community members. Attendees could get their blood pressure checked and obtain information and materials from fifteen different health organizations. Cheryl Alexander-Warren, the health lead at United Progressive Baptist, explained that the grant they received from Partners in Health and Wholeness helped them promote health in both their church and the community: “Through this grant, we have actually been able to impact the community, not only our church, but the community, too.” They also used the grant to purchase healthy food and snacks for church events like Vacation Bible School. “I was able to encourage the congregation to start bringing healthy baked foods – it’s not all about fried chicken and collard greens.”
The church recently participated in the Hosea Project Diabetes Prevention Program, an initiative sponsored by Winston-Salem State University. Cheryl talked about how positive the program was for everyone who participated: “After sitting through the 12 weeks of education classes of the WSSU Hosea Project – Diabetes Prevention Program, I learned how important it is to eat lots of fruits, vegetables, less fried foods, and drink plenty of water. I learned that it is about changing your mind and the way you think about what you eat. Another thing I learned in the education classes was to watch those calories and be mindful of what we are eating. Before this class, I never paid attention to calories. A major success story was that everyone that participated in this diabetes program lost between five and ten pounds. Several said that they had tried diets, and we didn’t do diets – we did healthy eating.”
After the 12 weeks of the Hosea Project, the health ministry at United Progressive Baptist started targeting physical activity. They have been participating in a variety of walk-a-thons, hosted by organizations like the American Heart Association. Cheryl also has future plans to target the youth at the church: “Well, since we just completed an adult diabetes prevention program, I wanted to try to coordinate one that will be youth-oriented, using the same platform, but focused on youth. I want to teach them how to make smoothies, protein shakes, and I want to start a garden.” Cheryl hopes that the church’s start with Herb Kids, a small herb garden at the church, will turn into a larger garden initiative.
Over time, Cheryl and her fellow church members at United Progressive Baptist have come to see how intricately faith and health are intertwined: “You can be sick and you can be ill, but if you don’t have the faith, then mentally it’s going to drain you. And when you get that mental stress, it wears on your body not only physically, but mentally and emotionally, and that can affect how stress affects other parts of your body. Faith can keep you strong – that’s where my faith ties in. And my job is to get the rest of my church members to realize that health and faith are partners together—because our bodies are a temple and it’s up to us to take care of them. If we take care of our bodies along the way, then we can come to church and do what we need to. And not only that, but motivate the community to understand health and faith together. And that’s how it all ties in for me, health and faith. I’d never even put the two together before, even when I applied for the first grant, it just did not make sense to me. But as I’ve been in the program and other programs, I’m starting to learn about health and faith and how they tie in together. We believe that your faith makes you whole, and it makes you whole by helping you take care of your body.”
United Progressive Baptist has taken a collaborative approach to promoting health, working with one another and with their community. “We’re also partnering with another church in everything that we do now, too. The more members, the more churches that we get involved, the better.” For Cheryl, collaborating with church and community members is a way to live out her faith: “It’s something that I enjoy doing. This is my calling with the church, the health ministry. I didn’t have a calling before. This is my calling.”
We at Partners in Health and Wholeness are grateful for the incredible work United Progressive Baptist is doing for health, and can’t wait to see their future plans turned into action.