Every session of the Faith In Prevention lay leader training opens and closes with a prayer, expressing gratitude and excitement for the chance to bring much-needed knowledge and resources to promote healthy living to vulnerable Camden communities. Pastors and lay leaders of the participating churches and mosques come to the three-part training series to learn how to teach the Faithful Families Eating Smart, Moving More (Faithful Families) curriculum, as well as how to apply for funding for policy and environmental changes at their places of worship.

Our Faith In Prevention program works to lower the burden of chronic disease in Camden by harnessing the power of existing faith communities. Since the program started last year, the Camden Coalition, funded by the New Jersey Department of Health, has given $193,000 to faith-based organizations throughout Camden to implement critical environmental changes that would promote and sustain healthy lifestyle choices.

“The impact [this program] is having on the community is far greater than I ever anticipated,” says Summer Tatum, Program Manager for Community Engagement at the Camden Coalition. “Families are having dinner together, working out together, and making healthy choices together— it’s bringing a sense of fellowship and community back to Camden.”

Every class in the Faithful Families curriculum includes a cooking demonstration. Lay leaders watched Community Engagement Program Assistant Soley Berrios cook a “Beefy Skillet,” a turkey, pasta, and vegetable dish from the Faithful Families recipe book. She demonstrated how to make a low-sodium seasoning, add color with vegetables, and use whole wheat pasta and lean turkey to make the meal even healthier.

Dorothy Jenkins, a lay leader from Judah Community Fellowship Church, works as a caterer, but says that even with her professional cooking experience she’s learned a lot from the Faithful Families curriculum about cooking healthily, and she’s looking forward to doing the cooking demonstrations at her church. “I want to teach the new generation about nutrition,” she says, “so they can be free of disease.”

Summer says that teaching about nutrition and physical activity is just the start. “We’ve created a network of faith-based leaders in the city. The potential is unlimited. I see us going far beyond just this program.”

The next step in our work with South Jersey’s faith-based network will be the Faith in Health forum on September 16 at Rutgers-Camden. Hosted by the Camden Coalition, Get Healthy Camden, and Rutgers University-Camden, the forum will convene over one hundred faith leaders from across the region, and feature speakers with deep roots in both the health and faith-based communities in South Jersey.

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