Village HeartBEAT kicked off its fourth season Saturday with a record 21 churches signed up to take part in this year’s 10-month wellness program.
Sponsored by the Mecklenburg County Health Department, Village HeartBEAT partners with Charlotte-area churches and faith-based groups to address risk factors associated with obesity and heart disease in the African American and the Hispanic populations.
On Saturday, the first of more than 300 participants gathered for mandatory screenings at First Baptist Church-West. Participants were checked for height, weight, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure and diabetes. They will be tested again toward the end of the program.
New churches joining the program this year include Temple Baptist Church, Fifteenth Street Church of God, Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, Park Ministries and Sugar Creek Church of Christ.
Cheryl Emanuel, a county senior health manager who created the program, said she enjoys watching the program mature as local congregations recruit new members and develop their own ideas.
“Village HeartBEAT continues to be facilitated with my leadership through the county, but the program belongs to the members and the teams and the churches that are a part of it,” she said. “I’m constantly trying to empower the faith-based organizations to create programs, things that can be sustainable, not just solely rely on what the Health Department can bring.”
What’s New in 2016
For the first time this year, Village HeartBEAT will go beyond simply testing participants for diabetes and will implement programs designed to help those with diabetes better manage their condition. Those programs will include education sessions and programs offered through the McCrorey YMCA and others.
“What we want to do is be able to put a little bit more focus on those individuals who are living with diabetes, especially if they are continuing to experience issues with their weight or if they are experiencing trouble controlling their numbers around diabetes,” Emanuel said. “When you’re overweight and living with diabetes, it also can put you at a greater risk. So we’re going to focus on their different signs and symptoms.”
More places to work out
Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation has identified five locations where Village HeartBEAT participants can work out. These will be in addition to previous locations at the McCrorey Y and the Johnson C. Smith University HealthPlex. The Park Ministries also has agreed to make its indoor track available on a set schedule.
Lots of shoes
An anonymous donor has offered to kick in about 150 pairs of new shoes for participants who need them, especially participants who are diabetic or overweight. The donor also will include shoe insoles and leg braces.
“One of the things we’re learning from Village HeartBEAT as we try to improve the process is getting at what’s actually hindering people from working out,” Emanuel said, “and one of the biggest hindrances is people not having the proper walking shoes to exercise.”
Long dominated by women, Village HeartBEAT this year has seen more men joining church teams, so Emanuel said she will look for ways to keep them motivated.
“We’re going to be looking at activities that we can have the men do,” she said. “When you get African American men to be engaged, that’s a milestone within itself, because they sometimes tend to stay out of initiatives that can improve their health.”
The Village HeartBEAT program lasts for 10 months, which includes a 16-week exercise and weight-loss competition period. Each team averages about 14 people, though only 10 are officially counted in the competition. The others serve as alternates. At the end of each year’s competition, awards are given to individuals and churches that record the greatest progress in various health categories.