Graduating to better health

Published 9:25 pm Saturday, June 16, 2012

During the season of high school graduations, a different type of commencement was held on Friday evening.

About 85 people gathered to graduate from a diabetes education course conducted over the past couple months in seven different churches in Suffolk. More than twice that number went through the program, but many were unable to attend.

The Project Power course, led by the American Diabetes Association and funded by a grant from the Obici Healthcare Foundation, focuses on traditionally black churches because black people are almost twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes as the general population.

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The program included two leaders at each church who recruited about 25 people from the congregation to take part.

The participants got free health checks and sessions with a dietitian, learned about diabetes and its complications, received tips on preventing it and discussed how to manage it if they already have it.

Lawrence Lambert, manager of mission delivery for the American Diabetes Association, encouraged the participants to continue the lessons they learned in the program.

“This is a seed,” he said. “Take it home with you. We ask that you give it time and attention and deliver a crop of improved health for you and for this community.”

The Rev. George L. Smith, an associate pastor at First Baptist Mahan, said he joined the program “to enhance my understanding about diabetes a little more.”

Although he is an old hand at diabetes — he’s had it since 1985 — he said the program helped him.

“It helps you be aware,” he said. “If you don’t do the things that are going to help you, it’s going to be devastating to your health.”

Gary Rodgers also is a diabetic who has lost two toes to the disease. The founder of More Excellent Ministries, he said he is going to try to get his church involved in the program.

“I’m excited about what they’re doing,” he said. “We have to stay conscious of it. If you don’t, you will be a victim like me. At first I wanted to be mad because I didn’t take care of myself, but who could I blame but myself?”

Chandra Johnson, a nurse, was one of the leaders of the program at Tabernacle Christian Church. She isn’t diabetic, but like everybody there on Saturday, she knows plenty of people who are.

“We had good discussions,” she said. “Everybody was able to learn from one another.”

The classes already are having lasting effects. Leaders reported participants already have received good reports from their doctors about the changes they’ve made. And at least two of the churches plan on developing a ministry devoted to all aspects of health.

On Saturday, a training session for ambassadors at 10 new churches was held to kick off a second session of the program.

The participating churches in the session that wrapped up Friday night were St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, St. Paul Baptist Church, Tabernacle Christian Church, First Baptist Church Mahan Street, Union Baptist Missionary Church, Healing Chapel Baptist Church and Gethsemane Baptist Church.

To find out more about diabetes or about the program, visit www.diabetes.org.