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Community forum aims to improve Rowan residents’ health

Pastor sparks agribusiness summer camp

By Susan Shinn

For the Salisbury Post

The Rev. Richard Joyner was tired of burying parishioners.

As pastor of Conetoe Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, 75 miles east of Raleigh, he was losing church members between the ages of 30 and 50 to chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

“Death was draining,” he said.

So he prayed to God, and a voice told him, “Open your eyes and look around. What do you see?”

He saw farmland.

“Is there anyone else up there I can talk to?” he asked, and his audience laughed. Joyner shared the success story of improving the health of Conetoe, population 300, at Friday’s community health forum hosted by St. John’s Lutheran Church.

After all, Joyner grew up on a farm, and wasn’t keen to return. But he decided to offer an eight-week agribusiness summer camp, free to participants.

He thought no one would show up — 100 children came the first day.

“That’s how God really works,” he said.

Unfortunately, Joyner hadn’t developed a plan for the camp. The local Muslim leader or imam offered to help. That didn’t sit well with Joyner’s deacons, but he told them, “Isn’t it a shame that God sent us a precious gift, and we wanted to deny that gift?”

The camp wasn’t about conversions. It was about human development. Because of that, it quickly gained support from the local Unitarian church, and the LGBT community.

Joyner learned from the nearby hospital that 96 percent of the town’s residents were in the hospital once every quarter.

“We wanted measureable outcomes,” he said. From that camp grew better health and nutrition for the entire town.

“We’re down to 21 percent usage of the emergency room,” Joyner said. “This program is youth-led.”

He spoke of a 12-year-old beekeeper, children who get up at 5:30 every morning to tend their crops, who sell 3,000 pounds of honey a year to fund their own college scholarships.

“It’s about making health care a human development issue and not an economic issue,” he said. “If you put economics as your outcome, you’ll prostitute human beings every time.”

By Susan Shinn
For the Salisbury Post

Building relationships and connecting the dots are the key to improving the health of a community.

That was the conclusion of more than 125 people who attended a community health forum Friday in the Faith Center of St. John’s Lutheran Church. The half-day event included healthcare professionals, pastors, and members of social services agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Keynote speaker Dr. Soma Stout of Boston is a founder of “100 Million Healthier Lives,” a global initiative that seeks to achieve improvement of community and population health.

Before her presentation, Dari Caldwell, president and CEO of Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, and Nina Oliver, director of the Rowan County Health Department, shared sobering statistics. They served on the event’s steering committee, which also included Mayor Karen Alexander, County Commissioner Judy Klusman and Carolyn Byrd, St. John’s director of senior adult ministry. Krista Woolly, executive director of Community Care Clinic, chaired the committee.

The most distressing news: Rowan County ranks 76th out of North Carolina’s 100 counties on health rankings.

Stout’s initiative seeks to change statistics like these in three ways: unprecedented collaboration, innovative improvement and system transformation. Her hope is that such changes will result in 100 million people living healthier lives by 2020.

Such an ambitious plan hinges on comprehensive collaboration, Stout said.

“How many people’s lives could you improve if you worked together across sectors?” she asked.

All communities who seek to improve their citizens’ health, she noted, have shared priorities. These include closing equity gaps, helping veterans thrive, helping all children have a great start to life, encouraging citizens to engage in improving their health, and creating well being for seniors.

Stout asked attendees to consider five questions:

• Whose life will get better because we were here?

• What can we do to facilitate real transformation in the health and well being of people, systems and communities?

• How can we partner with each other and with people with life experience in a way that builds a community of solutions?

• Who isn’t thriving in our community, and what would it take for that to change?

• How can we change the system?

Following a presentation from the Rev. Richard Joyner of Conetoe (see sidebar), the group broke into small groups to discuss these questions.

The Rev. Danielle Kosanovich DeNise, St. John’s pastor for discipleship, said the faith-based community has a role to play in improving health.

“In Jeremiah, God talks about plans to you give hope and a future,” she said. “That’s where the church comes in. We want you to know that you have hope, and you have a future.”

Nicklaus Goodman, a Community Care Clinic board member, said agencies need to spend less time worrying about themselves and more time worrying about the people they’ve serving, working together to expand resources and prevent overlap of services. It doesn’t matter which agency serves someone, he said, as long as they get served.

The Rev. Chris Shelton, senior pastor of Life Church, is also on the clinic’s board. He, too, believes that faith-based partnerships are critical.

“The problem is that many of our faith-based organizations are doing a lot of really good work, but we’re not doing a lot of talking and collaborating,” he said.

Anne Corriher is executive director of Main Street Mission in China Grove.

“I wanted to know more, and be more connected to Salisbury,” she said. “We all work on the same problem and we’re all in the same county.”

Main Street Mission is one local agency offering the Bridges Out of Poverty program.

“It’s a holistic approach, and that’s what we need,” she said.

Woolly was encouraged by the participants’ high level of engagement.

“The hard work begins tomorrow,” she said.

Woolly and her committee will compile the results of the information shared by the small-group facilitators. Then they will develop a plan to move forward.

“We need to be open with results from other counties that have been successful versus reinventing the wheel,” said Richard Reinholz, the Hurley Y’s executive director.

Or, as Jordan Honbarger put it, “You can change the fish, or you can change the lake.”

Honbarger is a graduate student in UNCC’s School of Social Work, and an intern at Hanford-Dole Elementary School.

“It was so good to see this collaboration,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to change these outcomes, by working together.”

“I was shocked to learn that Rowan’s health numbers were not as good as any of the counties contiguous to us,” said Paul Fisher, F&M Bank’s chairman emeritus. “Companies looking for new locations might think twice about coming to Rowan County. Like it or not, poor personal health and our future economy are connected. We must begin to deal with the findings we learned about today.”

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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