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The Fruit of the Spirit Prevention Institute Research Project

The Community Networks Program-C is a community-based, participatory-research and educational model which was developed for the purpose of reducing cancer health disparities by training and empowering community people. There are three Tennessee CNPs located in medically underserved urban communities of (Memphis, Nashville, and Chattanooga), that are an extension of the Meharry Medical College’s Center for Optimal Health. It was out of the Chattanooga location that the organizational infrastructure of the Fruit of the Spirit Prevention Institute (FOTSPI) was conceived. 

The overall goal of the Community Networks Program-C is to establish community partners who have an interest in cancer prevention. The Fruit of the Spirit Prevention Institute began its mission in 2009 of using nutrition as a means of preventing cancer disparities. Partnerships were formed with local African American pastors and their congregations who had an interest in teaching their members to eat more fruits and vegetables and to participate in physical activities. Each year two-four churches are chosen to participate in this project. The first two churches to particpate were Greater St. Mary Baptist Church (located in South Chattanooga) in the community of Alton Park/Piney Woods and New Anointing Pure Holiness Church of God (located in East Chattanooga) in the community of Bushtown.

The Fruit of the Spirit Prevention Institute implemented the use of two widely recognized intervention programs, S.N.A.P and Body and Soul to target church congregations in high risk areas who would benefit from incorporating fruits and vegetables into their daily lives. Health educators contacted the targeted church pastors via telephone, correspondence and scheduled meetings about the FOTSPI and its benefits to their members.   Primary partners included UT Agricultural Extension, Hamilton County Board of Education, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Department of Health, Morehouse School of Medicine, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Nursing Department, University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and Meharry Medical College.  Pastors signed agreements that spoke of their support and commitment to the project.  They announced informational reminders about FOTSPI during Sunday morning services and during Bible study.  The church coordinators and peer counselors recruited church members as well as people in the community to participate in the program. CNP -C health educators contacted their community partners to assist in carrying out the program.

Culturally appropriate cancer prevention educational materials were used as teaching modules that were adapted from the American Cancer Society’s Body and Soul program.
The ten week curriculum that was used throughout the duration of the program combined popular education methodologies, along with lecture style discussions to demonstrate to participants the importance of eating fruits and vegetables.
  Students were able to learn through several interactive lessons that involved cooking and aerobic exercise demonstrations.

Students learned the value of baking, grilling, boiling, and steaming meats and vegetables instead of frying them.  Instructors discussed the importance of selecting a variety of colors in fruits and vegetables so that participants could diversify the amounts of nutrients and vitamins.  There was also a focus on choosing leaner meat selections at the grocery store, in addition to choosing correct portion sizes during meal times.  Red meats such as pork and beef were discouraged while fish, poultry, and other foods with omega 3 fatty acids were highlighted, especially for the purposes of maintaining appropriate cholesterol and blood fat levels.

Health educators from Southside/Dodson Avenue Community Health Centers used the S.N.A.P curriculum to educate participants about how to reach their healthy eating and weight management goals.  Each church involved in the program had a peer counselor whose main goal was to reinforce subject matter being taught in class, and to assist participants in completing the goals and objectives of the program.  Each church had three peer counselors who completed a four hour training session that included training materials developed by the Body and Soul American Cancer Society program.

APRIL – JUNE, 2012

Upon completion of the Fruit of the Spirit Institute, students were given a graduation ceremony where a healthy meal was provided.  Over seventy five attendees were present for the graduation. Dr. Stephanie Miles-Richardson, a professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine, served as keynote speaker.  In her address to the graduating class, Dr. Miles-Richardson spoke about the importance of striving for optimal health, and also the urgency of developing and implementing a preventative health care model among minorities.  Her address was very well received by the audience, and many community members expressed sentiments about how the message inspired them to become more proactive about their health. Many community residents have now been equipped with a much broader understanding of how community-based participatory research can impact their lives on an daily basis and possibly reduce their chances of succumbing to adverse cancer health disparities. It is now up to all parties involved (the researchers, health care workers, community partners and community residents) to continue searching for ways that programs such as this can be sustained in the community.  The strength of the FOTSPI was that it combined culturally relevant educational outreach and innovative community partnerships to engage the community in cancer research and prevention on a grassroots level.