Making the commitment to change eating and living habits is hard enough, doing it alone is even harder. That’s why Highland Christian Center formed their Wellness Team nearly a year and a half ago. With a congregation of over 1,200 people strong, there are a range of health needs that exist within the congregation. HCC has a non-profit organization, Highland Haven, that focuses on educating and supporting youth and others within the community. Multnomah County has partnered with Highland Haven since the beginning of the REACH grant in 2014.
All faith-based partners of REACH are encouraged to create a wellness team, such as the one at Highland. Having a group of familiar people who have experience in the medical field can make a huge difference for people who may not have friends or families to check-up on them.
Highland’s Wellness Team, which is made up of about five people, provides a variety of health services to their community. During a summer wellness meeting, the team looked over continuing to provide blood pressure checks, serving more nutritional food at a summer event and the possibility of other health screenings.
Deshawn Hardy, who is the coalition coordinator of the Highland African American Youth Coalition and son of the church’s Pastor W. G. Hardy Jr., said that the team is a way for the church to utilize the skills of its members. Prior to the Wellness Team, he saw a gap between the expertise of the congregation and the support provided to members.
“We need to find a way to bridge those gaps because we have so many people in the house who are able and capable of helping outside of the house,” he says. “It’s important to know who’s there. This program is huge. It’s well needed for people who are around.”
Lessie Williams, who is the executive assistant to Pastor Hardy and also manages the Highland Youth African American Community Coalition, leads the Wellness Team. Williams put the group together by placing advertisements in Highland's newsletter to attract people who had any sort of experience in a health profession.
One of those people was Theresa Johnson, who is a registered nurse and new addition to the Wellness Team.
“I see this big gap. We’ll send patients home and they say ‘oh yeah I have church support. I have all my church friends and all my family’ but then no one comes to check on them and no one comes to visit them,” says Theresa, who was been part of the Highland Christian Center for years.
Karen Demus, who works in the health insurance industry, is also a regular member of the Wellness Team. She says because of her own experience with health issues, she wants to make sure more people have access to living the healthy, fulfilling lives that they want.
The Wellness Team currently meets monthly, but Lessie hopes that will change with time. Ultimately, she sees the team organizing an entire wellness day for the congregation where children, parents and elders can participate in workshops that will promote healthier eating, exercise and living.
“It’s important to me that we keep it going even if it’s just for one person,” Lessie says. “We are demonstrating that we are trying to support the community, our future. Our children need to understand that we need to work as a community to build community, to be healthy.”