Begun in 2002 and established as a 501(c)3 in 2004, through the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Public Health, Congregations for Public Health (CPH) address the public health concerns of residents living in neighborhoods within a one mile radius of each church. The CPH vision is to reach out to embrace their surrounding neighborhoods with programs and services to eliminate disparities and achieve optimal health, education, social, and economic well-being.
CPH consists of six African American churches located in some of Birmingham’s oldest and poorest neighborhoods. Poverty in these CPH neighborhoods ranges from 44.2% to 68.8%, some of the most serious poverty in the state and the nation. A defined geographic radius of 1 mile surrounding each church includes over 115,000 low income African Americans, including 23,000 school-age children: approximately 60% of Birmingham’s African American population and 80% of its school-age children age 5-18. Ninety two per cent are African Americans; 1% are Hispanic/Latino; 23% are age 5-19: 48% are 20-54; and 21% are age 55-85. Fifty-four percent of this population is female. In these neighborhoods, 28% of those 25 and older have a high school education and 14% have less than a 9th grade education.
The population served by CPH represents individuals with higher risk rates of morbidity and mortality associated with chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease/hypertension, and diabetes as well as lifestyle behaviors such as lack of exercise and good nutrition. Young children in particular are affected by the obesity epidemic as it relates to access to nutritious food and opportunities for environmentally safe physical activity. Disparity in education and income also has a negative impact on this population. They are largely uninsured or underinsured and have other issues related to access to care such as transportation, wellness and sick leave benefits, in addition to inadequate distribution of health care providers, particularly in the area of primary care. Lack of ability to access and understand readily available health information related to prevention and disease control also negatively impact this population.
CPH builds on the existing experience of CPH Neighborhood Outreach Specialists (NOSeys). The NOSeys have been hired by CPH to administratively manage operations, communications, program activities, and community outreach within each church’s one-mile radius. Each NOSeys completes over 40 hours of Community Health Advisor core skills training and has been trained and maintains certification from the UAB Institutional Review Board to participate in research projects. NOSeys educate the community; recruit participants for various research projects; serve as primary data collectors; and implement best practice programs.
The following grant-funded and community outreach program activities have been implemented by Congregations for Public Health:
Search Your Heart (SYH) – a faith-based community education program designed by the American Heart Association to educate African Americans about heart health and stroke prevention.
CARES: Congregational Advocates Reaching and Empowering Survivors – a program funded by the Lance Armstrong Foundation, the American Cancer Society, and the Alabama Department of Public Health to educate and empower cancer survivors, caregivers, and their families. CPH NOSes undergo a volunteer training curriculum to assist in providing services and program referrals for cancer survivors and caregivers in their congregations and surrounding communities.
Health InfoNet – a Robert Wood Johnson funded project implemented through the UAB Lister Hill Library to teach congregations and communities how to access health information on the World Wide Web. CPH churches set up computers in their resource centers and provide trained volunteers to help individual access health information.
Your Community, Your Health – a weekly local health talk radio show featuring Body Love, a syndicated health soap opera developed in conjunction the UAB School of Public Health and UAB Department of Theater.
Community Public Health Certificate Program – a public health certificate program that began in 2006 in partnership with a the Birmingham Baptist Easonian Bible College. The purpose of this program is to provide an avenue for current and future pastors, ministers, and congregational members to learn first hand about health issues that affect their community.
CPH CARES about Breast Cancer – a project funded by the North Alabama Affiliate of Susan G Komen for the Cure. NOSes are trained to conduct community awareness programs as well as one-on-one interventions to educate, encourage, and support underserved women to participate in no or low cost breast cancer screening programs offered through the Alabama Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. NOSes also provide information and referral to resources and survivorship services and programs.
Sing for the Cure: Sisters Celebrate Survivorship – another project funded by Susan G Komen for the Cure to raise awareness about the importance of early detection of breast cancer. CPH has formed a gospel group of breast cancer survivors to sing and give their personal testimonies about surviving breast cancer.