The “hallelujahs” and “amens” of eight Charlotte churches are going high tech in an effort to combat health disparities in the black community.

Under a yearlong grant from the CHRIS Project (Consumer Health Resource Information Service) the churches will get laptops, wireless Internet service and online training for health coordinators. The goal is for each church to boost its congregation’s health and wellness ministries while providing members with health information.

The project will focus on the high rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and infant mortality in the black community, as well as the low rates of childhood immunization.

It also seeks to get more people surfing reputable healthcare websites, such as those provided by the federal government (

Sponsored by the National Library of Medicine and the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, CHRIS was officially launched Tuesday at Johnson C. Smith University with a host of preachers, health officials, politicians and well wishers.

The exciting thing about the program, said City Councilman Anthony Foxx, is that it involves the black community’s “power shots” – its churches — and that it comes at a time when the number of underinsured and uninsured Americans is growing.

Participating churches are East Stonewall AME Zion, First Baptist Church-West, Greenville Memorial AME Zion and Grier Heights Presbyterian. Also, Little Rock AME Zion, New Life Fellowship, Pleasant Hill Baptist and Rockwell AME Zion.

Each church received a $12,500 grant to be used for a laptop, printer, wireless service, a stipend for a health coordinator, trainings, digital weight scale, blood pressure monitors and health activities.

The health coordinators will:

  • Insure that regular health presentations are made during worship services and on church bulletins and Web sites.
  • Help sponsor two or more health screenings fairs or workshops.
  • Encourage congregants to visit the National Library of Medicine’s consumer websites, which deals with topics such as seniors, toxic and hazardous substances, drugs and health issues.

Rose Marie Womble, CHRIS project manager, said the faith-based approach to health awareness was piloted in Knoxville, Tenn., in 2003 and has since spread to 21 churches in that state. The Charlotte initiative is the first attempt to roll out a national model.

“We adopted a faith-based approach because it is believed that churches are the best sites to increase awareness about health issues and get people to adopt healthy lifestyles,” said Womble.

As the Rev. Harry Burns of Presbyterian Hospital’s Chaplain Services surveyed the interdenominational mix of participants, he noted he was pleased to see collaboration, not competition, among churches seeking to address issues in the black community.

Health Disparity Facts:

  • African Americans are 30 percent more likely to die of cancer than whites.
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for racial and minority groups.
  • The incidence of HIV/AIDS is 24 times higher in African American females than in white females.
  • The prevalence of diabetes is two times higher among African Americans than whites.
  • The infant death rate is twice as high for African American children as for whites.
    Source: CHRIS Toolkit

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