Partnering with faith communities to expand healthy change to neighborhoods

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By Whitney Buchmann

Over the past five years, the Camden Coalition’s Faith in Prevention program has reached almost 60 faith-based organizations serving Camden city residents. An initiative of the New Jersey Department of Health, Faith in Prevention expands the role of faith-based organizations in the delivery of health prevention services in Camden County. Last year, New Jersey Healthy Communities Network and the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids provided us with funding to reach two more congregations as part of their strategy to create community-based social support for physical activity. This year, we’re teaming up again to build on the social network we’ve established through Faith in Prevention and conduct community assessments.

Making healthy changes in congregations

After members participated in the six-week Faith in Prevention curriculum about healthy eating and active living, each faith-based organization in our program applied for mini-grants to promote lifestyle changes across their congregations and communities. These funds required environmental and policy changes at the organization level to ensure that the lessons from the curriculum continue beyond the program’s initial six weeks.

It was inspiring to see how each community chose to implement changes in unique, creative ways. Past initiatives include cooking classes, increased access to exercise equipment, and community challenges to encourage lifestyle changes. St John’s Ministry eliminated all foods with high fat, sugar, sodium, and carbs from all church-sponsored events, and continue to offer monthly cooking classes and “Salad Bar Sundays.” Word of Faith Christian Fellowship offers education and resources to accompany changes in recipes they use to feed their members. Mt Olivet Church created an exercise area with equipment and exercise videos, and holds regular Cooper River walks after Sunday service. And Vibrant Church holds a “Biggest Loser” challenge to see who can lose the most weight in a given period, and has improved exercise consistency among members with their Moving on the MarQ exercise ministry.

Expanding healthy change to neighborhoods

This year, our strategy with New Jersey Healthy Communities Network is to conduct community assessments for healthy eating and active living at the neighborhood level. We plan to group Faith in Prevention alumni organizations by neighborhood and invite them to assess the needs of the broader community by using New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids funds as an incentive. We’re asking groups to think bigger this year and make plans that affect not just their own congregations, but also whole neighborhoods. For example, instead of making a walking path outside of a church or temple, groups can create a neighborhood walking path that stretches several blocks and is accessible to more people. This is a great opportunity for faith-based organizations to provide healthy solutions to issues they see in their community. We’re excited to see how faith communities will work together to improve healthy eating and active living in Camden and take Faith in Prevention to the next level.

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