Teens use health-related policies to support HEAL at church

Teens use health-related policies to support HEAL at church

Setting health-related policies are, perhaps, one of the first steps in creating healthy environments, influencing behavior change, and addressing health equity on a systemic level. When health-related policy is incorporated into churches, the potential to change the health of a community is impactful. And, when teens lead the policy charge, encouraging church leaders to adopt health-related policies can be simple.

That’s what teens found out throughout a three-year partnership between Wholespire and the 7th District AME Church’s Young Peoples Division (YPD). Through The HYPE Project®, youth teams were able to get more than 60 health-related policies passed at their churches. Examples of policy changes made by teens and their church leaders include:

HYPE Team at Pine Grove AME Church

Teens at Pine Grove AME Church in Columbia meet to plan their policy proposals.

  • Offering water, fruit, and vegetables when meals are served,
  • Including physical activity breaks during services and meetings, and
  • Removing saltshakers from tables in church dining halls.

Teens played many important roles in the development and passage of these health-related policies. They helped decide what policies were most appropriate for their churches, wrote the policies, and presented them to church leaders for approval.

Sometimes, policy change requires changing a policy that already exists rather than creating a new one. At Mother Emanual AME Church in Charleston, teens worked with their culinary committee to update their kitchen policy. This updated policy was changed to include healthy food choices on their menu.

The HYPE Project® teaches teens that promoting policies is key to getting everyone in on the healthy eating and active living movement. Teens developed activities to promote health-related policies like creating a walking program, producing physical activity videos, and hosting kick-off events.

At Pine Grove AME Church in Columbia, teens hosted the Reshape your Diet and Witness the Fitness community event at the Pine Grove Community Recreation Center to promote their church policies and to encourage the community to adopt a healthy lifestyle. They offered a healthy snack taste test, games, fruits of the spirit canvas painting, line dancing, healthy recipes, and door prizes.

“The youth participation at this event made me proud. Because of this event, the church is starting a community faith walk beginning the first Saturday in the month at Harbison Park,” said Miranda Blocker, YPD director at Pine Grove AME Church.

church members walking for health

Teens led events like church walking groups to promote their policies and to encourage members to become more physically active.

At Bethany AME Church in Union, teens successfully encouraged their church leadership to create health-related policies for their kitchen. In addition to serving fruits and vegetables at church-hosted events and removing the salt shakers from tables, they decided to stop serving fried foods altogether. After promoting the policies, they’ve seen individual behavior change.

“We noticed that a lot of our church members have started to exercise more (such as joining gyms, walking) and eat healthier,” said Rena Goode. “We also noticed that our kitchen committee has increased healthy food choices for meal service.”

Through youth engagement and The HYPE Project®, the 7th District AME Church’s teens are taking on larger leadership roles and becoming community changemakers. Visit The HYPE Project® page to learn how teens can make change happen in your community.

Linking youth and congregations to PSE change for a greater outcome

Linking youth and congregations to PSE change for a greater outcome

Working with the faith-based community to increase access to healthy choices and opportunities is a strategy that Wholespire staff knows well. Churches and other faith-based settings provide opportunities to implement policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) change that can have a positive impact on population health.

Over the past three years, Wholespire partnered with the 7th District African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and its Young People’s Division (YPD) to implement The HYPE Project. Through a competitive application process, all churches in the 7th District with an active YPD were invited to apply for a mini-grant to implement healthy eating and/or active living strategies. Funded by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SC DHEC), The HYPE YPD Project also required that participating YPDs implement injury prevention strategies.

Over the life of the SC DHEC funding, Wholespire and the 7th District AME Church supported 306 youth contacts from 22 AME churches in 11 counties. Youth in the Young People Division (YPDers) positively impacted the lives of their congregations by completing projects such as:

  • Community/Church Gardens,
  • Church Health Bulletins,
  • Safety Signage,
  • Handrails,
  • Community/Church Walking Clubs,
  • Walking Trails, and
  • Creating/improving Outdoor Recreation Spaces.

The YPDers also collectively passed over 60 healthy eating and active living policies at their churches. Policies focused on offering water, fruit, and vegetables when meals are served, including physical activity in services and meetings, and removing saltshakers from tables in church dining halls.

“This impressive accomplishment is an indication that church leadership, who must approve policies, are supportive of healthy change and that they are invested in the health of their congregants,” said Trimease K. Carter, manager of youth engagement at Wholespire. “Sixty policies across 11 churches is huge, and it was youth-led.”

Wholespire encourages HYPE teams to connect with local partners for additional resources and assistance that can leverage funding. Many YPD teams partnered with local organizations for technical support. Organizations such as the South Carolina Department of Education’s Farm to Table, SC DHEC, and SNAP-Ed provided helpful advice, tips, printed material, and strategies for implementing projects.

“Oftentimes, we are making decisions that affect our youth. It seems obvious to get youth leaders connected with our partners and let them help lead the direction of community health improvement efforts,” said Carter. “We feel like connecting youth with our chapters and partners is a win-win for everyone.”

YPD teams haven’t been without their challenges. COVID-19 posed great challenges for YPDers because of church closings, canceled group meetings, and other restrictions. They had to identify projects that could be safely implemented. Through their projects, youth were also able to support efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19. Most were able to provide personal protective equipment (e.g., masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, and wipes) and share prevention tips with their congregations.

The Final Round

The Jeter AME Church HYPE Team in Carlisle, SC, plants a garden.

The final round of funding ended in September 2021 with eight YPD teams being selected. Five of these were returning teams and three were new teams. The returning YPDers focused on expanding, maintaining, and promoting their existing projects. For example, one church hosted a Reshape your Diet and Witness the Fitness event to promote policy, systems, and environmental changes that were established in the previous years of their project. 

The newly selected teams were able to identify, plan, and implement projects through this opportunity. According to one HYPE Project Advisor, “The financial support removed a large barrier in making the vision a reality.”

Wholespire was honored to work with historical Mother Emanual AME Church in Charleston, a newly selected team. Mother Emanual AME Church experienced tragedy in 2015 when a self-acclaimed white supremacist took the lives of nine members attending Bible study. The YPDers posted signs about general kitchen safety, passing healthy eating and active living policies, stress management, and body positivity. Their YPDers also hosted monthly group walks near the church.

The safety and injury prevention component during the final round of funding was addressed in many different forms. One team focused on practicing safety before, during, and after physical activity by warming up, cooling down, staying hydrated, and recognizing the signs of heat exhaustion. Other teams promoted safety through the use of safe recreational signage, kitchen safety signage, no firearms guns/weapons signage, and lighting in outdoor recreational spaces.  Additionally, one HYPE YPD Team worked on clearing a sidewalk for the community to use.  Residents expressed gratitude for clearing the sidewalk, with one stating that she can now “walk without fear of being hit by a car on the road.” 

As with other Wholespire mini-grant opportunities, YPDers were encouraged to leverage funds.  One church applied for a Healthy Eating, Active Living mini-grant from Wholespire and received $4,900.00 to expand their project. Their initial project included the creation of a walking trail. With these new funds, they will be able to repair and upgrade their basketball and baseball areas and add playground equipment. Wholespire plans on connecting this group to the SC DHEC Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, & Obesity Prevention for consultation on an open community use policy.

Youth Engagement Benefits

When we think of youth engagement, we think of youth engaging in advocacy campaigns or with community coalitions. The HYPE Project teaches youth to engage in healthy eating and active living projects. Church leaders have shared many benefits from participating in the HYPE YPD Project. They report that youth have become more engaged within the church and church activities. An adult advisor said, “Some of our youth were not very active within the church and this gave them the opportunity to step outside of their box.”

YPDers are also engaging with older adults within their congregation by getting them to help with activities like gardening, clearing fields, and packing mulch. One adult advisor said, “We had adults and senior citizens help out and it gave them something to do!”

This opportunity has also helped youth to be more conscious about physical activity and what they are eating and drinking. They are also sharing and stressing the importance of these things with their families, congregations, and communities. YPDers have hosted ribbon-cutting, field day, and kickoff events, as well as health fairs. One team’s project even led to their church starting a community faith walk. 

Working with the 7th District AME Church and YPDers to address healthy eating, active living, and safety across communities in South Carolina has been an impactful partnership. Not only have the youth and church leaders learned about PSE change and its effectiveness, but Wholespire staff learned about the structure of the AME church and the appropriate channels to make change happen.


HYPE team working to become Champions of Change

HYPE team working to become Champions of Change

Calvin Whitmire
Lakelands Connector, July 7, 2021

During this time of uncertainty, one Laurens County group has been working hard to become “Champions of Change.”

The Laurens County Bridging the Gap Advocacy HYPE team is composed of students from schools and communities in the Laurens area working as one united team to bring about change in the community.

HYPE stands for Healthy Young People Empowerment. It is a curriculum-based youth engagement program designed by Wholespire (formally Eat Smart, Move More SC) to build the skills of youths to become a greater voice in their communities.

The Laurens County School District Hype team includes middle and high school students from both Laurens and Clinton. They have worked to address the issue of unsafe playgrounds, unsafe passage to schools and parks, and lack of accessibility to fresh vegetables in lower-income communities.

The HYPE team has worked to have pedestrian signs and flashing school lights installed to make the entrance to the school safer. They have worked to restore and update abandoned parks in the area. They have also implemented a fresh vegetable garden to help provide fresh vegetables in lower-income neighborhoods.

People who the group met and worked with include Laurens Mayor Nathan Senn, Waterloo Mayor Barbara A. Smith, Gray Court Mayor Stellartean Jones, Laurens City Council, Laurens County Council, DOT, Laurens Park and Recreation, Churches, Laurens Rotary Clubs, Laurens Exchange Club, and Laurens District 55 School.

Even in times of COVID-19, the team has been able to make change in the community. Though its plans for a countywide Kids Kickball Festival in June 2020 had to be postponed because of CDC guidelines, the group still had a productive year. Members helped improve the community through the renovation of Hickory Tavern Park and by helping restore and repaint the railings and awnings of an older member of the community. They also worked to maintain the garden to provide fresh vegetables for the community. All of this was accomplished while adhering to CDC regulations.

The HYPE team looks forward to making Laurens County a safer and more enjoyable place to live by putting their skills to use and being a greater voice in the community. It hopes to be able to set the plan in motion for the Kickball Festival at the abandoned football field it helped restore. The HYPE team’s next goal is to build a greenhouse to improve the garden’s productivity.

Third Round of AME Churches get Funded for The HYPE Project

Third Round of AME Churches get Funded for The HYPE Project

For the third year in a row, Eat Smart Move More South Carolina (ESMMSC) is partnering with the 7th Episcopal District of the AME Church to teach teens about The Healthy Young People Empowerment (HYPE) Project and to help guide them through a project that focuses on healthy eating and/or active living in their churches or communities.

This year, eight churches were selected through a competitive application and review process to receive mini-grants and form church-based HYPE teams. Three of the teams are new grantees that will identify new projects, while five are returning teams that will build upon their existing grant work. 

Last year, the shutdown that resulted from COVID-19 occurred less than two weeks after the HYPE teams were trained. As a result, they had to quickly pivot, figuring out how to connect virtually to discuss initial project plans and any changes needed based on safety guidelines for COVID-19. Then, they had to figure out how to implement their projects with closed churches and community facilities. On top of that, some teams even dealt with the direct impacts of COVID-19 within their congregations.

“This year is different,” says Trimease Carter, ESMMSC’s youth engagement manager.  “We are more prepared to implement The HYPE Project during the pandemic and somewhat know what to expect. We’ve redesigned the curriculum and training for full virtual implementation.” The new round of HYPE teams will attend a virtual training in March to kick off the project. This opportunity is funded through a grant that ESMMSC received from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Division of Division of Injury and Substance Abuse Prevention. Through this partnership, HYPE teams will address healthy eating and active living while also incorporating safety and injury prevention components into their projects.

Pandemic Presents Challenges and Opportunities for HYPE Teams

Pandemic Presents Challenges and Opportunities for HYPE Teams

Mt. Zion AME Church (Greenwood County) youth used some of their funds to purchase PPE.

How do you continue a grant project during a health pandemic while social distancing? That’s a question many communities are answering, including Healthy Young People Empowerment (HYPE) Project teams in the 7th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.

Through funds provided by SCDHEC, 82 youth from nine AME Young Peoples Division (YPD) programs in seven counties successfully addressed challenges related to COVID-19 restrictions while continuing to work on their healthy eating, active living, safety, and injury prevention projects in their respective churches. The AME churches are located in Dorchester, Florence, Georgetown, Greenwood, Richland, Sumter, and Union counties.

First, many youth teams had to figure out how to connect virtually to discuss their initial project plans and any changes needed based on safety guidelines for COVID-19. Then, they had to figure out how to implement their projects with closed churches and community facilities. On top of that, some teams even dealt with the direct impacts of COVID-19 within their congregations.

“COVID-19 has presented social obstacles for all of us, especially the elderly,” said Trimease K. Carter, MSW, youth engagement manager at Eat Smart Move More South Carolina (ESMMSC). “The YPD projects allowed church members to safely connect and be active even when the church building was not open.”

Carter added, “Churches got creative with their gardens allowing people in the same households to sign up for shifts to work in the gardens together. One team even created Rec 2 Go Kits for families to remain active while at home.”

Youth were able to support efforts to curve the spread of COVID-19 in their churches and communities.  Most were able to provide personal protective equipment (e.g., masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, and wipes) and share COVID-19 prevention tips.

BEFORE: Arthurtown Community Basketball Court

In addition to addressing safety and prevention, youth teams also worked on healthy eating and active living projects. These projects included community/church gardens, church health bulletins, safety signage and handrails, community/church walking clubs, and church-based healthy eating and active living policies. Collectively, the HYPE YPD Teams were able to pass 14 policies at their churches. The youth also took on many roles in implementing the projects.  They wrote policies, planted and maintained gardens, established physical activity equipment use guidelines, and delivered presentations to their pastors, congregations, and communities.

AFTER: Arthurtown Community Basketball Court

Youth at Browns Chapel AME Church in Richland County focused on revitalizing a community basketball court to increase access to a safe place to play. According to their Adult Advisor April Alston, “The Arthurtown basketball court is looking a lot more refreshed these days. The once weed-covered court now has a flash of sprawling color.”

Leroy Belton, president of Arthurtown Community Association, said, “The revitalization of the court will make a dramatic, positive impact on our community. Neighborhood kids and adults are excited to play on the court and the HYPE team is proud to play a small part to make a big impact on the community.”

The Bethany AME Church Garden (Union County)

In Union County, youth at Bethany AME Church focused on a garden to provide church members with fresh produce.

“Without this grant, this garden would have been impossible. A lot of churches struggle to have extra funds to do projects such as a garden, so it’s just wonderful to start something that we can continue for a long time,” said Adult Advisor Rena Goode. “We’ve always wanted to have a garden at the church, so this was just a great opportunity.”

HYPE team members show off produce from their garden.

Goode added, “What really made me smile was when one of our youth said when he grows up, he wants to have a garden. I told him ‘You don’t have to wait until you’re adult, you can have a garden right now.’ It’s really good to engage our youth in community projects. It encourages them to think out of the box, get hands-on experiences, but most of all have a positive impact in the community. I hope other AME churches will join in this great opportunity next year.”

This grant round marks the second year of partnering with the 7th Episcopal District AME Church. The next round of grants will open in early 2021.

High School Students Help Increase Breakfast Participation at White Knoll

High School Students Help Increase Breakfast Participation at White Knoll

How do you serve breakfast to students when the campus is large and spread out and breakfast in the cafeteria just isn’t cool? You take the food to the students. That’s what students involved in The HYPE Project, teachers, and cafeteria staff did during the 2019-2020 school year with a Let’sGo! 3.0 mini-grant from Eat Smart Move More South Carolina.

According to nationwide studies, breakfast participation is a struggle at many schools, and White Knoll High School is no different. At the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, only 7% (140 students) of the student population (2,000 students) ate breakfast at school. Why?

  1. Students arrive late and miss the breakfast window.
  2. Students aren’t hungry at 7:30 in the morning.
  3. Students are social and prefer to meet up with friends.
  4. There is a stigma associated with eating breakfast at school.
  5. The campus is large and spread out, so the cafeteria is out of the way.

“Students need well-rounded, nutritious meals to get them to the lunch hour, and that can be pretty late in the day for some students,” says Kelly Blevins, food service manager at White Knoll High School. “Sure, White Knoll has vending machines, but we all know they don’t have the healthiest choices.”

The consequences of going hungry in the morning or choosing sugary or salty vending machine food and beverages equal poor classroom performance, poor test scores, and poor behavior. By eating breakfast, those indicators can be easily turned around.

Second Chance Breakfast, aka Fast Break
Second Chance Breakfast is a nationally tested and proven program that offers a breakfast break in the morning, often after first period for older students in secondary schools. Food carts are strategically placed throughout the school stocked with healthy breakfast options for students, faculty, and staff to purchase by swiping their student ID card. Blevins heard about the program from Lexington School District One leadership and thought it would be worth the try.

With district leadership on board, Blevins needed to get support from faculty and staff, which she did; however, the most important stakeholders she needed approval and support from were the students. Enter Public Health Teacher Amber Morris, MPH, and her public health students.

Center for Public Health and Advanced Medical Studies
Lexington School District One provides students with opportunities to prepare for careers in specific areas through the Centers for Advanced Study. Located at White Knoll High School, the Center for Public Health and Advanced Medical Studies is a three-year, six-semester program in which students spend two blocks each semester of their sophomore through senior years exploring public health and medicine.

Teacher Amber Morris, MPH, is actively involved in the public health profession. Through her contacts, she learned about the Eat Smart Move More Lexington County chapter. At a meeting, she learned about The HYPE Project and the Let’sGo! 3.0 mini-grant opportunity, so she applied to fund a HYPE team. After learning about the Second Chance Breakfast program from Blevins, the two teamed up with public health students to plan and launch the Fast Break program at White Knoll High School.

“When Amber came to me and told me that her students wanted to help us, I was excited. It was great to see that these girls knew and understood that nutrition is one of the most basic things you need to cover and so they helped make it their own, which is great,” says Blevins.

Blevins had already purchased four food carts, so the HYPE team decided to use part of their mini-grant funding to purchase a fifth cart, which meant more access to the stations and more students served.

“Our latest lunch is at 1:30 p.m., so if you can’t have breakfast in the mornings, you’re probably going to be pretty hungry by the time lunch comes around,” says Zoe, a 17-year-old student and HYPE team member. “So, we wanted to provide for those students who got there a little later or who weren’t hungry at 7:30 in the morning.”

Blevins also teamed up with the digital arts classes for logo and food cart graphics design. “It was incredibly important to me to let these kids know the program is for them. Their teacher was so wonderful to help us out. It didn’t seem like too big of an ask. They created the Fast Break logo and the vinyl wrap for the carts.”

Youth Voice is Powerful
If breakfast isn’t cool in the minds of teenagers, how do you get them to even consider breakfast at school? You use your existing partnership with the HYPE team and the digital arts students to spread the word. The students took ownership of the Fast Break program.

To get community and student buy-in, the HYPE team planned a taste test during the Town of Lexington’s Kids’ Day community event and at freshman orientation. With the help of Blevins, Morris, and some key partners, the HYPE team met at a local commercial kitchen and prepared yogurt parfaits prior to both events.

“The Dairy Alliance is a huge supporter of our project, and they provided all of the yogurt, and Senn Brothers provided the strawberries,” says Morris. “The Town of Lexington didn’t charge us for the space at their event.”

On coordinating space at the Kids’ Day event, 17-year-old Tayla says, “It wasn’t too difficult. I went to the Icehouse Theatre website to find the contact information. I emailed the contact and introduced our group and our project. He was all for it. It was a lot of fun interacting with the people, and it was a good social experience.”

At freshmen orientation, the all-girl HYPE team presented the Fast Break program to the new students and their parents. They manned one cart and provided healthy food samples. This was an effort to educate incoming students on the program and prepare them for what to expect in high school.

The team also helped with the kickoff, which was planned in September shortly after the school year started – a strategic move that allowed time to promote the program and prepare students.

“We wanted to get started, get the students acclimated, and then do a big opening. On the day of the kickoff, we had everyone from Lexington One Food Service come out. Sara (a HYPE team member) contacted the media and invited them to attend. We did a lot of promotional activities to prepare the students,” says Morris.

A New Breakfast at White Knoll – Flip or Flop?
September 16th rolled around, and the students and cafeteria staff were ready. According to Grace, “It wasn’t popular in the beginning, but now I know a lot more people who are using it. It really increased in popularity and use as time went on and people learned more about it.”

Grace went on to explain that students appreciated the Fast Break stations and reported back to her that it allowed them to think better in their classes. Blevins also mentioned positive feedback from teachers. Some teachers reported students weren’t complaining about being hungry or asking for a snack.

Seventeen-year-old Shavey says, “I remember on opening day, a lot of students were excited about it and kept asking their teachers when it would open. It was extremely popular.”

The Fast Break program received overwhelmingly good reviews, and the data speaks for itself. “We went from serving 7% (140 students) of the student population in September to serving on average between 26% and 27% (520-540 students) of the student body prior to school closing due to the coronavirus,” says Blevins. “Most of that (the purchases) was happening during that Fast Break time, so we were really happy with that jump in participation.”

The cafeteria also experienced an increase in breakfast purchases during their 7:30 a.m. breakfast service. Blevins explained that in the past, not all of the breakfast items were purchases. Since the Fast Break program, some items in the cafeteria were being sold out. Perhaps, the stigma associated with eating breakfast at school was lifted for many students.

Planning Makes Perfect
The Fast Break stations were open to any student, faculty, or staff member, and cafeteria staff only had a 15-minute window to serve and swipe ID cards. A lot of strategic planning happened prior to launching the program, from food packaging and classroom trash can capacity to station placements and timing.

The cafeteria remained open during the Fast Break time, so students in the vicinity could dash in and buy breakfast items. Students on free or reduced lunches are only allowed to purchase one breakfast, so if they ate during the 7:30 a.m. breakfast and were still hungry at 9:45 a.m., they were required to purchase food with cash in the cafeteria.

Due to time and technology, cash, debit, and credit cards were not accepted at the food stations, but there’s a solution for that! Parents could add money to the students’ cafeteria account, giving them the opportunity to swipe their student ID card and pay for a Fast Break breakfast.

A New Perspective
Remember the district-wide program the Center for Public Health and Advanced Medical Studies? Sara, an 18-year-old public health student enrolled in the program, is a student at River Bluff High School. She was taking public health classes at White Knoll High School and was a member of the HYPE team that worked on the project.

“I feel like I learned a lot because I do go to River Bluff and it’s on the opposite side of town as White Knoll. I didn’t know there were that many people on free or reduced lunch (30%+) and that breakfast was an issue because I don’t see that at my home school as much just because of where I live,” says Sara. “So, doing this project helped me see what actually happens and how there are so many different sides of things. I felt honored to do this because I was able to help that part of the community that I go to half of the day. You need to help everyone in your community, not just those in your school because we all live in the same area. I live in the same district, but it’s so different.”

What’s Next?
Through the HYPE Project and the Let’sGo! 3.0 mini-grant, public health students had a huge impact on the lives of fellow students. They were able to implement a project that fed more students, improved classroom attitudes, and reduced stress.

Everyone involved in executing the Fast Break program is excited about the next steps for the program. Neighboring Gilbert High School heard about White Knoll’s success and they plan on implementing the program there.

“It’s been awesome to see how this program has grown into a huge project,” says Zoe. “It’s actually going to be implemented at Gilbert High School because it’s been so successful here. I’m really proud of it. It’s kind of like my baby, my child.”

According to Morris, the goal is for the Fast Break program to be implemented in every high school in Lexington School District One. When that happens, eating breakfast will be the cool thing to do at school.

Wellness Wednesdays Video

Fall 2019 Kickoff Promotional Video

The Let’sGo! 3.0 mini-grant opportunity was made possible through a grant provided to ESMMSC by the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.