By Amy Adams Ellis
It's fitting the Conetoe Family Life Center in rural Edgecombe County sits alongside the railroad tracks. This place is all about creating connections.
On a hot and humid afternoon, a couple of dozen people have gathered on the church grounds to connect with each other and compare notes about the passion they share: to see their communities become healthier.
Everyone here either has completed or is enrolled in a lay health-coaching course developed and refined by faculty members from East Carolina University's Brody School of Medicine and College of Nursing. Graduates of the 96-hour curriculum serve as volunteer health advisors in homes and churches of their underserved neighbors-statistically, some of the poorest, sickest people in eastern North Carolina.
"My health coach helped me a lot…with my weight, my blood pressure, my sugar…. I walk more than I used to walk…. They tried to get you whatever help you might need, whether it was diabetes or blood pressure or whatever…. The main thing, they care about you."
Data show the volunteer advisors are helping improve health outcomes for this marginalized segment of the population by targeting behaviors related to weight and nutrition, activity level, diabetes and blood pressure management, and access to care.
"Remember this is about incremental change," says Ruth Little '14, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health at Brody, who's there with Edgecombe County Health Director Karen LaChapelle '96.
Little, an eastern North Carolina native and pastor's daughter, has spent years working with an interdisciplinary team-and about $1.5 million in grant funding-testing and tweaking the curriculum.