You often hear about the fried fish and fried chicken dinners that are popular with the faith based community. In 2014, a countywide program called Village HeartBEAT was created to promote better health awareness and address health disparities through faith based organizations. One of the co-founders, Cheryl Silver-Emmanuel, who served as a Senior Health Manager representing Mecklenburg County Public Health for the past 21 years, has announced that she is retiring after 25 years of service.
More than sixty churches are a part of the network and the members kick off each season by participating in a health screening that uses biometric numbers to identify health concerns. The screenings also track the program which has resulted in significant health improvements concerning weight loss, cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes. This year marks the ninth season where churches participate in the 16 week competition that addresses exercise, nutrition and weight loss. According to Emmanuel, more than 200,000 members have participated.
Village HeartBEAT’s nationally recognized, award winning model has been applauded for how it manages to get local clergy to address its members’ health and nutritional needs. Gov. Roy Cooper has publicly commended the network as a faith-based model for addressing health disparities. Village HeartBEAT was the past winner of the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge, an initiative by the Aetna Foundation in partnership with the American Public Health Association and the National Association of Counties with a prize of $500,000 and they received the ‘Best Practices Award’ from The Balm in Gilead, sponsor of the Healthy Churches Conference.
Described as a one of a kind model, Emmanuel also says that “the beauty of the organization is that the size of the model has grown over the years to include mega churches, multi denominational churches, and small congregations.” She says that it has been a wonderful experience to see everyone come together to assist and serve together regardless of their size and denomination, and to witness the friendships of pastors across various denominations as they share resources.
Village HeartBEAT is also home of the Thereasea C. Elder Community Health Leadership Academy, named after the county’s first black public health nurse. The historical exhibit of the network is slated to be unveiled on the campus of Johnson C. Smith University this year.
Some of Emmanuel’s other accomplishments include Our Voices for HIV/AIDS, the Ryan White Consumers’ Engagement, Faithful to the Call,-Partner in Eliminating Health Disparities, Carolinas Association for Health Equity and the Office of Community Engagement. And even in retirement, she will continue her public service. “Ms. Elder’s last call to action for me was to preserve history and don’t forget about Madie Smith, the first black public health supervisor. Emmanuel is currently planning the inaugural phase of the Madie M. Smith’s Women Health Institute. Thank you Cheryl Emmanuel for your leadership, your love and your heart to serve others.
You can find more information about village HeartBEAT at http://www.villagehb.org.