A monthly report from The Carter Center

Interfaith Training Program strengthens link between faith and health

On April 13, 50 members of 25 congregations from the Buford Highway Corridor gathered at the Chamblee Library for the first day of a two-month training session. Although from several different religions and ethnic cultures including Vietnamese, Hispanic and Korean, they were nevertheless united by a common goal-to strengthen their congregation's commitment to health ministry.

The 20-hour program, designed to train congregational members to be "health promoters," is coordinated through The Carter Center's Interfaith Health Program (IHP). Started in 1992, IHP works to help faith communities nationwide prevent disease and promote wellness, especially in areas where many residents may face potentially high health risks due to factors such as income or age. In doing so, it helps congregations confront health issues related to caregiving, AIDS, adolescence, homelessness, aging, violence prevention, mental illness and substance abuse.

Ministers from participating congregations ask two members (one woman and one man) to train as health promoters. The candidates complete the training, then act as liaisons between their congregations and health care services in their communities, providing information and encouraging healthy lifestyles among congregational members. The Emory School of Nursing, in partnership with the Atlanta Interfaith Health Program (AIHP), provides the training at no charge.

Thong Dinh, a member of the Church of the Holy Cross, is among those taking the course. A volunteer at Good Shepherd Services in Chamblee, Dinh sees a direct connection between his volunteer work and his potential service as a health promoter. "Every Tuesday and Thursday I work with elderly people, teaching them a Vietnamese form of exercise called medicovital gymnastics. Health promoter training is similar in that it also combines the mental, spiritual and physical aspects of health. I'm taking this course because I love helping my community. This type of education will allow me to do even more."

Vincent Dominique, a native of Haiti and a student at the School of Theology, and his wife Paulina, both registered nurses, look forward to using what they learn in the course to augment their professional skills. "My wife and I both belong to the Embry Hills United Methodist Church, which has a membership of about 1,200," said Dominique. "We both think it is important to foster an environment where importance is placed on health care. We see a need in our congregation for more awareness of physical fitness. One of the projects we'll be doing is to offer six-month blood pressure screenings. Even though we can't treat people, we can make them aware that they might have a problem, which is key to preventing serious illness. My wife and I believe that all nurses are inherently teachers. So, in this way, we hope to use our medical backgrounds to teach our congregation more about good health."

Tom Droege, associate director of IHP, oversees the training program. "You don't have to be a professional to promote health," he said. "Lay people motivated by their faith are natural health promoters, and with training, can be a leaven in their congregations and the community. These volunteers coordinate smoking cessation clinics, screenings for hypertension and diabetes, and classes in CPR, exercise and nutrition. They also collaborate with other congregations and local health agencies."

Droege stresses that an important part of the training is the ongoing support health promoters receive. "For the Buford Corridor initiative, two nurses from St. Joseph's Hospital have been assigned to the Korean and Hispanic neighborhoods in the area. They will work with those who are newly trained to support their efforts and serve as consultants."

Fifty profiles of effective interfaith health programs are available on IHP's web site at: or e-mail Tom Droege at:

Ann Carney is asssistant communications coordinator for The Carter Center.

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