Church Health Stories: Congregational Health Promoter Barbara Wright

Jun 15, 2018 | Church Health Stories, Health Ministry

Barbara Wright, 75, has a reputation at her church. It’s the kind of reputation that serves her – and her fellow congregants – very well.  

“They call me the oldest teenager, because I’m always moving. I’ll pass the teenagers in the hall and tell them they need to keep up!”  

Wright’s enthusiasm for living a healthy, active life is apparent to everyone she meets, but it’s through her role as a Church Health Congregational Health Promoter (CHP) that she affects real, positive change in faith communities throughout Memphis. With training in Mental Health First Aid to spot the symptoms that may lead to a family crisis and experience leading seniors in exercise, Wright helps people in profound ways.

Wright was trained in health promotion through Church Health’s CHP program. For more than 30 years, the healthcare organization known for providing healthcare to uninsured people in Shelby County has trained more than 1,000 CHPs like Wright to be health advocates in their faith communities. After experiencing a health crisis of her own, Wright felt a calling to help people like her.

“I learned to live healthy the hard way. In 2008, I had triple bypass surgery. The doctor told me that I was borderline diabetic, and I knew I needed to do something. That prompted me to look for healthy alternatives in my life,” she said. “At that time, I didn’t even know that I would go on to help anybody else, but I’ve evolved. I found where I fit.”

Through Church Health’s CHP program, Wright made connections that continue to offer support ten years later. Sterling McNeal, Faith Community Relations Coordinator at Church Health, works with Wright to provide workshops and other resources to the people she serves.

Understanding that a church is often much more than a place where congregants spend Sunday morning, Wright feels a special calling to serve faith communities. “I knew I wanted to get to the churches. A lot of people will go to church, but they won’t go to other places, so the church is a great place to reach them and encourage them to see the doctor. Some have trouble giving up junk food and exercising, and I understand that because I was there.”

Health promotion can often be an uphill battle, especially in neighborhoods where healthy and fresh food is difficult to access or afford. Wright remains committed to re-educating faith communities on feeding a crowd. “Zucchini, kale – I try to introduce healthy alternatives to BBQ and potato salad to churches. I sometimes fuss at them, ‘When you serve bad foods, you’re working against my program!’”

But Barbara Wright keeps on teaching and encouraging the people she serves to live their healthiest lives.  

“It’s my mandate from God.”

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