OP-ED: Faith and Community Action Can Make Stockton a Healthier Place

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By LaCresia Hawkins, REACH Program Coordinator

 

According to scripture, we must consider our bodies as “temples of the Holy Spirit,” which we have been tasked to manage throughout our lives.

More often than not, though, our busy lives lead us astray from this undeniable truth. The daily stresses that dominate our existence break us down, and we become ever more reliant on unhealthy habits, habits that have us treating our bodies more like garbage disposals than temples.

 

We drink sodas when we’re thirsty, eat chips when we’re hungry and choose to sit instead of walk. Then, we gain weight, become sick with diabetes or heart disease, and inevitably our temple falls apart.

 

Three in four of us are overweight. One in ten has type 2 diabetes. And it is all preventable.

 

Gratefully, it isn’t too difficult to transform our bodies back into temples. What it takes is support, fellowship and an environment that makes healthy living easy living.

 

That’s why the California Center for Public Health Advocacy has partnered with the NAACP of Stockton and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help us transform our community into one that embraces the “body as a temple” mindset.

 

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Our program, REACH (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health), aims to make healthy food and drinks available to the African-American community by introducing healthy guidelines and practices into our churches, our schools and our neighborhoods.

 

So far, we have sparked some promising change. We have already shepherded healthful programs in three churches in Stockton: O Taste and See Ministries, Wings of Healing Christian Center and the Open Door House of Prayer Ministries. Two more are interested in joining, and the door is open to many more.

 

These churches have introduced healthier snacks at events and have started to serve water instead of punch and sugary sodas. These two simple changes set a new standard that helps parishioners steer away from products that can harm their health and lead to type 2 diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases, and towards products that support their health.

 

They are also going above and beyond by launching health ministries that preach healthy habits and sponsor physical activity four Sundays each year. Some are conducting night outreach programs, where volunteers canvas a neighborhood for an evening, spreading an inspiring gospel of healthy living. Others are working with Sunday school groups to educate hundreds of children on the basics of healthy eating and exercise, providing them with the tools to live longer lives.

 

These practices – first put in place at our churches – eventually spread throughout the community, making all of us healthier.

 

But that isn’t the only step REACH is taking. We are also partnering with motivated teenagers to join our “3D Youth Group” to bring health messages to community events and other venues throughout Stockton.

 

Our staff is even working with the City of Stockton to introduce healthy ordinances and planning practices that make our neighborhoods better places to live. Walkable paths to school, plentiful grocery stores and healthier kids’ meals are just three tools in a large toolbox that the city can use to help improve Stocktonians’ lives.

 

We hope that you will join us in helping restore our temples. Personal change begins with community change, and every voice helps.

 

Visit www.stocktonreach.org to learn more about REACH or to join our coalition.

 

LaCresia Hawkins is program manager of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy‘s REACH Project and a resident of Stockton. She can be reached at [email protected] or (209) 466-7020.

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