A Faith Community GYM

Partnering with a faith-based community to reduce health risks and embed physical fitness in a Milwaukee neighborhood

Full Project Name:A Faith Community GYM: Guiding Youth Movement for sustained, healthy futuresPrimary Community Organization:Milwaukee Area Technical CollegePrimary Academic Partner:Jeff Morzinski, PhD, Family and Community MedicineAward Amount:$40,000
Award Date
July2009
Project Duration:12 months

Project Description Narrative:


Approximately 65% of U.S. high school students do not meet recommended levels of physical activity, leading to an increased risk of premature disability and death due to heat disease, diabetes, cancer, and high blood pressure. In 2007, 72% of Milwaukee's 9th - 12th grade students did not participate in recommended levels of physical activity. Among the central city neighborhoods of Milwaukee, the Amani Neighborhood is of special concern. The Amani Neighborhood is predominately poor, African-American, with few health services. Based on 2000 Census data, neighborhood challenges include high rates of single-parent families, joblessness, neglected and abused children, crime, drug use, school drop-outs and teen pregnancy. This neighborhood has the lowest socio-economic status of any within the city of Milwaukee.

The Greater New Birth Church is centrally located within Amani and provides a respite of care for its children. Churches are vital institutions for many African-American inner-city youth: trust, open communication, safe and familiar environments have resulted in youth choosing healthful behaviors, including improved levels of physical activity. Based upon an assessment conducted with Greater New Birth Church youth, an overwhelming interest and commitment for guidance of healthy lifestyles and health careers were demonstrated.

The goal of this project is to increase fitness activities within a large, faith-based community in Milwaukee, while building capacity to reduce health risks by training youth, family and volunteers to embed and sustain running and fitness in their community.

Community partners:
Greater New Birth Church

Additional MCW academic partner:
Melissa DeNomie, MS, Family and Community Medicine

Outcomes & Lessons Learned:


• Developed and delivered a Health Advocate curriculum focused on areas crucial to support youth striving for greater, sustained health. Health Advocates were relied on throughout the project to assure that efforts reflected the culture of the community and church

• Developed and implemented a 10-week youth curriculum and training series, which included didactic and practical content on nutrition, health support networks, running skills, and fitness and health careers

• Documented increases in endurance and time engaged with physical activity among involved youth

• Established partnerships with community groups including The Badgerland Striders, who provided access to road races and promoted visibility of the project

• Disseminated project outcomes and lessons learned at various meetings and events, including the 43rd Society of Teachers of Family Medicine Spring Conference, 2nd Annual University of Wisconsin Madison Obesity Prevention Research Symposium, and the 35th Annual National Wellness Conference

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