Diabetes class in Sunday school

Published 8:16 pm Saturday, March 17, 2012

In a classroom at Tabernacle Christian Church on Saturday, people got up one after the other and practiced their speech.

But the 20 or so participants weren’t in a public speaking class — they are the new leaders for a diabetes education series in 10 different churches.

Funded by a grant from the Obici Healthcare Foundation, the program recruits leaders from black churches in Suffolk to gather 25 volunteers from their congregations to participate in a series of five classes on diabetes awareness and education.

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Participants in the program will get free health checks and sessions with a dietitian, learn what diabetes is and how to prevent it, and find out how they can better manage diabetes if they already have it.

“It’s all about making a difference,” said Lawrence Lambert, a program manager for the American Diabetes Association who led Saturday’s “train the trainer” session. “You have to give people information, and with that information, we can make changes.”

Ultimately, 20 churches will participate. The program focuses on black churches because black people are almost twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes as the general population.

And with the rates of diabetes and serious diabetes complications far higher in Suffolk and Western Tidewater than the state average — and the Hampton Roads Tour de Cure, a fundraising event for the American Diabetes Association, coming to Suffolk on April 21 — Suffolk is an ideal place to start.

On Saturday, 20 volunteers from 10 churches gathered to learn how to administer the program in their church. Several of them have diabetes themselves. Several others work in health care and see the effects of diabetes every day.

“I have to show people we can change,” said Doretta Gillian, a member of St. Paul Baptist Church who has diabetes. “That’s why I’m here today.”

Gillian volunteered to get up and practice the speech she will give to the church congregation on an upcoming Sunday, asking for 25 volunteers from her church for the program.

“Diabetes is a very serious disease for which there is no cure, but there can be change,” she earnestly told her fellow participants.

The 25 participants from each church will complete six modules where they learn about proper nutrition, fitness and even how to prevent diabetes in the children in their lives. The program will conclude for the first 10 churches in June.

Michelle Harmon, a pharmacy district manager for Farm Fresh, is working with the program. She lives in Capron and believes many people in the area just accept that they will develop diabetes.

“We accept that our grandparents had diabetes, and we accept that our aunts and uncles had diabetes, and we’re just going to get it,” she said. “My passion is to reduce the rates in Western Tidewater. It’s not something to be proud of.”

In addition to the church-based program, the American Diabetes Association also will be holding free diabetes screenings March 27 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the East Suffolk Recreation Center, 138 S. Sixth St. Anyone is welcome to find out his or her risk.

“For people who are at risk for type 2, even minor modifications can make a huge difference,” said Deanie Eldridge, executive director for Hampton Roads and Richmond American Diabetes Association.

For more information, visit www.diabetes.org. For information on the Tour de Cure in April, visit www.diabetes.org/hamptonroadsvatour.