PART II: Holmes County, Mississippi’s Ambassadors for Health
As Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” The Greenwood District United Methodist Church Health Alliance (GDUMCHA—or “HA” for short) is living proof.
The Health Education Center at John Wesley Church is just one of many initiatives HA is carrying out, and they are committed to taking their plans statewide. Their commitment is fueled by the amount of leadership and advocacy training they’ve engaged in over the past two years, and the knowledge that they can do so much better as a county—Holmes ranks 75 out of 82 on overall health.
Reverend Annie F. Williams, a core member of HA, is one of fourteen people from Mississippi to have received two extensive Advocacy Workshop Trainings led by Tandeka Inc. and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Advocacy Academy is a comprehensive and intensive training program conducted in two phases over 4.5 days for advocates to develop and sharpen their advocacy skills to advance childhood obesity prevention policies. Future plans include informing the local churches and communities about the Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move and Let’s Move Faith and Communities programs.
The HA team as a whole further learned how to fully engage the people of Greenwood District in improving their health when they received County Health Advocates training from Michael Jones, RN (University of Mississippi Medical Center Hospital - UMMC), and developed a grassroots-focused plan which they are now implementing. In addition to the UMMC, the Amazing Pace, Mississippi and the Mississippi Delta Collaborative are among the many HA partners.
In June of 2012, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of United Methodist Church appointed Rev. Annie F. Williams and Dr. Detra Bishop as Greenwood District Health Ambassadors to the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church (Greenwood District UMC MS Conference is made of 11 Delta counties with 106 churches). In October 2012, Rev. Mattie Gipson (Greenwood District Superintendent), Rev. Williams and Dr. Bishop presented the HA’s plan at the General Board of Church and Society’s National Organizing for Health Care Justice Training Event in Washington D.C. The HA team is currently assisting other counties in the Greenwood District in developing their own HA initiatives.
The HA core team is working on a number of initiatives, including: Let's Move Holmes County, an organic community garden, and installation of blood pressure health stations in designated churches.
HA realizes they still have a long way to go, but they’re clear about how to get there. As an example, in Goodman, MS, people have to drive to get to a grocery store—either 7 miles to the south, 10 miles to the north, or 15 miles to the city of Lexington. The only food to be found in Goodman is at the corner gas station where it’s all either fast or packaged, two fast food drive-ins and a sandwich shop down town. HA will be asking the Mayors to help develop walking trails and community gardens within cities and towns, to work with grocery stores to come to small towns, and to encourage Quick-Stops, gas stations owners and fast food shops to offer fresh fruits for sale.
The highly energized members of HA are mobilizing their communities to change their worlds, and in the process they are changing people’s lives in ways both measurable and immeasurable.