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‘We're Bringing Public Health Out of the Bricks and Mortar of the Public Health Department’

Verna Laboy, left, wears a dark blue t-shirt and smiles into the camera. Annabelle Simmons, right, wears a bright yellow shirt and smiles into the camera.
Zia Kelly

Verna Laboy and Annabelle Simmons both work with Live Well By Faith, a community health program that targets chronic disease among African Americans in Boone County.

Verna has run the program since it was established by the Columbia/Boone County health department in 2016. The program supports health ministries at 17 black churches in the area by providing health programming, training and resources for people in the congregation, and leaders within each church help run programming and data collection.

Annabelle Simmons is a health lifestyle coach at St. Luke United Methodist Church, and they spoke about some of the more creative ways they try to inspire positive change within their church-based health ministries.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org

Annabelle Simmons: They just have fun. We have different organizations that come in and give them some coaching on how to do it, and how not to do it. You don't want someone trying so hard to lose weight that they starve themselves and pass out

Verna Laboy: Live Well By Faith uses the weight loss competition as like a gateway into the LWBF movement, community, introducing them to other programs that we offer, so that they hear about it, because Millennials don't go to church, folks, millennial don't go to church, folks, Millennials don’t come to church.

Annabelle: But they might come to a competition

Verna: But they might come to a weight loss competition, and this is where we grab 'em. Haha! We got ya!

Annabelle: Now you're gonna go to diabetes self-management, now we want to introduce you to weight watchers, now we want to introduce you to African Heritage cooking class…

Verna: I love the spirit of competition, how they're getting together and working out together and calling each other…

Annabelle: …calling each other, texting each other, "how about you pray for losing weight?" how about that? **laughter**

Verna:  Hearing Miss Annabelle is the most rewarding part of my job — when we get lifestyle coaches and health ministries up and running, for me, that just speaks life to a church.

It's a living, breathing organism. It shouldn't be a place where people go and sit for an hour or two on Sunday and then not go back the rest of the week, you know, you shouldn't go every Sunday to sit and wait to die. It should be a living, breathing, community place where people go and get their spiritual, emotional, physical, mental health addressed.

So, I just keep working with the people who keep showing up, in hopes that the light will come on for others that are still struggling. And that's hard when people don't really believe in themselves. I'm working with a population of people who have given up hope, to be quite honest, because it’s not easy being African American in the United States, or anywhere in the world.

I remember at one competition – this is like the fourth one – and it was a particularly rough day for me, and I got up there, and I just lost it, in front of everybody, because I wanted to give up.

We were able to coach each other, the coach needed coaching that night, and it was a very powerful meeting. So, I just love that Live Well By Faith is building an intentional community around health, and that we're bringing public health out of the bricks and mortar of the public health department into the community where people live.

Zia Kelly graduated with degrees in journalism and public health at the University of Missouri - Columbia in May 2020.. Outside of the newsroom, she works part-time as a personal trainer and competes as an Olympic-style weightlifter.
Rebecca Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth Desk. Born and raised outside of Rolla, Missouri, she has a passion for diving into often overlooked issues that affect the rural populations of her state – especially stories that broaden people’s perception of “rural” life.
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