Pastors’ wives, better known as First Ladies, have more influence over their church’s congregations than they realize, said Tracey Alston, executive director of the First Ladies Health Initiative and president of the marketing agency, Danielle Ashley.
On Thursday, Gov. Pat Quinn and Secretary of State Jesse White proclaimed September 28, First Ladies Health in Illinois. Cristal Thomas, Illinois Deputy Governor, said that most people trust their First Lady more than a doctor, so by churches offering free health screenings, more people are being reached and educated.
“Knowledge is power so helping inform people on their health is so critical,” said Thomas.
“A lot of times we’re looked at as the First Lady who sits on the front row, beautiful in her designated seat, but today we have left our seats, we are out in the communities and we are making a difference,” said Shauntai Stowers, co-chair of the First Ladies Health Initiative Chicago Chapter.
The Walgreens sponsored event started as an HIV/AIDS Task Force, then transitioned to an annual health day in 2008, where more than 150 First Ladies encouraged their congregation and residents of the community to participate in free health screenings. This is the sixth year for the non-profit that originated in Chicago. Today, more than 40 churches throughout the city participate.
“This started in a little room because we realized the power of the church,” said John Gremer, director of community affairs for Walgreens. “All too often, companies, and sometimes governments overlook that, they don’t realize the power that the church has as a positive influence in the community.”
Participating churches will offer both information and free screening for diabetes, hypertension, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, mental illness, Alzheimer’s and other diseases Sunday. This year eight more churches have joined, said Alston. The churches aren’t required to offer anything but their space. Everything is provided.
What started as a city-wide event spread to Los Angeles, California in 2011 and this year more than a dozen churches in Gary, Indiana are participating.
First Lady Monica Moss of Trinity United Church of Christ is participating in the annual event for the first time this year. She said her church has always focused on healthy living, but saw this event as a great opportunity to create more awareness for the congregation, as well as the community.
“Our church firmly believes in order to be healthy as a church family and as a church individual we have to start with what we’re feeding our bodies, as well as what we’re feeding our spirits,”said Moss.
Oftentimes, people, especially African-Americans are hesitant about visiting a doctor, but the free screenings at the churches make it convenient for people to get a check-up as soon as service is over, said Secretary of State Jesse White.
Moss agreed. “It’s a no excuse, it’s free, it’s available, it’s right there so you don’t have to go anywhere, just walk out of the church sanctuary and into a health screening room,” she said.
Heritage International Christian Church, 5312 W. North Ave., has participated for the past four years. Hattie Moorer, who is over the health and wellness ministry at her church said they have been extending this invitation to the community.
“There are so many people who don’t know what their blood pressure is, what their HIV status is because they’re afraid to know,” she said.
It’s up to each First Lady to decide how she wants to structure her church’s event. Moorer said that their church will offer massages and turkey hot dogs for those who get screened. There will be healthcare providers onsite to answer questions and explain the next steps to those who might discover a health problem.
“What we’re trying to do is create an interest for people, to bring them in and get them screened and the wonderful thing about it is that if you get screened and there’s a problem, they take you to the next level, they send you to somebody that can give you some help,” she said.
Stowers said that people should look at these screenings as “checkpoints,” the same way they periodically check their vehicle’s maintenance.
“You’re always getting your car tuned up so that’s what we are as the church,” she said. “Your body is like that car and in order for it to keep running, you have to keep checking on it, you have to constantly get tune ups and get your blood pressure checked and eat healthy, that’s what we’re doing as First Ladies, we’re empowering our communities, our people and our congregation to take control of their health.”
To get a complete list of participating churches visit www.firstladieshealth.com.