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Is your community in “the gap”? If so, a member of the Youth Health Service Corps wants to meet you, screen you, and advise you on how 5 + 1 = 20. This is not the new math, but an ongoing partnership between Lincoln United Methodist Church and the Youth Health Service Corps that provides five screenings plus one healthy lifestyle change to close the 20-year life expectancy gap of students, their families, and their communities.
“Affluent and insured communities on the average live 20 years longer than uninsured communities of color,” Sara Walker, the pastor’s administrative assistant at Lincoln UMC, explained, “because of lack of access to care and health education.” Walker is on track to become a pastor and works primarily with Lincoln’s immigration ministry.
The youth in the Youth Health Service Corps (YHSC) are responsible for recruiting 10 family members and neighbors to attend health fairs held at Lincoln UMC, 2242 S. Damen Avenue, Chicago. The screenings are conducted by the youth themselves and are designed to look for the top five diseases that cause the 20-year life expectancy gap—diabetes, hypertension, HIV/AIDs, breast/prostate cancer, and asthma. If a recruit is identified as having one of these preexisting health conditions, the youth work with program coordinators and partnering medical institutions to link that person with proper follow-up care.
YHSC youth are trained to do screenings for the five diseases by medical and nursing students at Rush University Medical Center. Lincoln UMC partners with health organizations, including Rush and Alivio Medical Center, to provide free care to those who are identified as at risk. In addition to conducting the screenings, the youth also advocate for a healthy lifestyle through exercise and healthy diet. Thus, 5 screenings plus 1 lifestyle change closes the 20-year life expectancy gap. Lincoln UMC received a grant from the Northern Illinois Conference United Methodist Foundation for supplies used at the health fairs.
Lincoln UMC has partnered with the YHSC since the program’s inception in 2010. The program, which began as a single after-school program, today exists and operates in 20 Chicago Public Schools and has provided thousands of health screenings. According to Walker, the program has other benefits. “The youth have grown personally and academically through the program; some students have gone on to college and then to medical or nursing school,” she said.
The Lincoln UMC congregation is inspired by the youth who take leadership of the program and volunteer when help is needed, she added. Members of the congregation are also screened at the health fairs and are healthier because of the program, Walker explained. Additionally, the church’s youth population has grown as a result of the program.
Lincoln UMC’s ministry is a good fit with the YHSC, Walker notes. “Our ministry believes that all human beings deserve adequate health care, regardless of race, gender, orientation, income, or immigration status. We also believe that the youth are not the problem; the youth are the solution. Those core principles [at Lincoln UMC] are the same core principles of the YHSC.” Another outgrowth of the YHSC is “Healthy Hood,” a collective of fitness instructors who provide low-cost exercise classes, which also are held at Lincoln UMC, to the community.
Walker has high hopes for the future of the church’s partnership with the YHSC, “We hope to expand into more schools as well as provide this program as a model to other groups, churches, and institutions that are able to implement it in other cities, towns, and states. We believe it is a model that can be taken all over the country to address health care disparities.” On a personal note, she added, “The YHSC is inspiring to me as it puts into practice the philosophy of health care being a human right.”
*Linda Hendelman is a freelance writer and editor, a lifelong United Methodist and Lay Servant in the Chicago Northwestern District.
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