Health Disparities in Local Communities is Focus of Interfaith Wellness Conference

Laura Tiedge addressing attendees[November 20, 2014]  More than 55 faith leaders, elected officials, health insurers and representatives from non-profit organizations gathered at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on November 8 to share inspiring stories and presentations on successful practices of faith-based wellness programs. The “Interfaith Wellness Conference” was sponsored by Healthier Port Chester and Healthier Mamaroneck, coalition-driven initiatives to promote general health and wellness and reduce chronic disease for African-American and Latinos living in these Sound Shore communities.

The Conference featured three panel discussions: Sharing Success Stories, Compassion in Action, and Clergy Stress & Self Care. The panelists, who represented six different churches in Mamaroneck, Mt. Vernon, Port Chester and White Plains, as well as New York State Department of Health and Westchester County Department of Health, shared their experiences with what has worked in their own congregations and in other communities. Community gardens, health screenings and new food policies were examples discussed as effective programs and ideas to combat the growing epidemic of chronic disease.

During breaks in the program, health insurers from Affinity Health Care, Hudson Health Plan and Open Door Family Medical Center were on hand to provide participants information about current health plans available in the marketplace and open enrollment periods and dates for health coverage in 2015. Dr. Karen Shields Wright in the final panel on addressing clergy stress demonstrated relaxation techniques that were well received by attendees. As one participant stated, “focusing on taking care of ourselves, our family and our community is what the conference is all about”.

Participants were also treated to a healthy breakfast, snacks and lunch provided by Whole Foods, Panera Bread , Stop & Shop, Costco, Trader Joe’s, and Walgreens. Thanks to the generosity of Greenwich Hospital, each church received a free Daniel Plan Church Campaign Kit, consisting of a six-week preaching series and small group study that teaches simple ways to incorporate healthy choices into everyday life.

Gregg Howells, Executive Director of the Rye YMCA, informed attendees that the Rye YMCA began working with our community partners in Port Chester in 2012 to develop strategies to make healthy living easier for everyone. “One can’t underestimate the power of the pulpit in changing lifestyle behaviors, and our faith leaders are a key partner in reversing chronic disease and improving health outcomes”, stated Howells.

In his opening remarks, Westchester County Legislator David Gelfarb commented, “Faith-based organizations can play a significant role in combatting the chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and depression that plague so many of our communities. I look forward to working with these organizations in connection with their key role in working toward improving the health of our communities.”

According to Laura Tiedge, Senior Director of Health Living at the Rye Y, the purpose of the Interfaith Wellness Conference is to share information on the resources that are available to develop and expand healthy ministries in the church communities and to forge a roadmap to better health for all.

Tiedge also thanked Christ’s Church in Rye and the Westchester Community Foundation for providing financial support to the Conference.