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WALKING FOR HEALTHIER COMMUNITY—Members of various Hill District churches walk from their church to a pep rally at Freedom Corner. (Photos by J.L. Martello)

 WALKING FOR HEALTHIER COMMUNITY—Members of various Hill District churches walk from their church to a pep rally at Freedom Corner. (Photos by J.L. Martello)


The church has always been the place where movements within the Black community were organized and implemented—civil rights, desegregation of schools, the right to vote—so it’s only natural that a health movement has began there as well.

A partnership between UPMC, through its Community Health 365 initiative, and Hill District Ministers Alliance and local organizations birthed the creation of Hill District 365, an initiative that focuses on making health a priority of the community and encourages its residents to participate in available health services and programs throughout the year, ensuring that residents are living healthier, happier lives.
In June, 10 teams, nine of them Hill District churches, began a 60-Day Health Challenge; now, more than half-way through the challenge, more than 300 individuals are walking and worshipping to be healthier.

“It’s amazing to me how dedicated, committed and consistent these people are being. It’s an inspiration in itself; it’s people of all ages and fitness levels working together. (It feels good) when you’re doing something that you want to see your community do because you know it’s good for the community, but it’s a whole different feeling that you get when they actually do it,” said Candi Castleberry Singleton, UPMC’s chief officer of diversity inclusion, which sponsors the 60-Day Challenge. “As the largest employer in southwestern Pennsylvania and health care system, this demonstrates our commitment to serve all kinds of communities as well as to create ways for health to be sustainable and not just something we think about when we’re sick.”

Hill District 365, Singleton said, grew from a conversation with City Councilman Daniel Lavelle and state Rep. Jake Wheatley, who represent the Hill District neighborhood, and their want to make health more than just annual weekend celebration in September; they wanted a program where people could be encouraged to participate in local health services 365 days of the year.

The initiative addresses five key areas of health—Body, Mind, Spirit, Home and Financial—all which can hand-in-hand, and together, neighborhood partners identify a health topic based upon the areas of health and work to spread awareness about it by offering health services, a monthly newsletter that identifies events and much more. Through Community 365 the initiative has expanded to Pittsburgh and Erie, where they each have their own initiatives and focus.

Along with the Health Challenge, Singleton said Hill ministers have held conversations about addressing the issue of infant mortality and ways to improve infant birth health as well as chronic conditions affecting the African American community.

Pittsburgh is focusing on workforce development while Erie has implemented a “Cradle to Grave” program which is based on Temple University’s same-named program, and address community violence and exposing youth to the impacts of gun violence.

“People sometimes want to count brown people out because they think we don’t care about these kinds of things and because the data suggests that we don’t. But I think we can change the data and we can change the perception. We just have to make a commitment,” Singleton said. “And it doesn’t stop there, if we can do it for health, then we can do it for violence and we can do it for education.”

During the HD 365’s 60-Day Challenge, each of the participating teams—Trinity AME, St. Benedict the Moor, First Church of God & Saints of Christ, Calvary Baptist, Ebenezer Baptist, Wesley Center AMEZ, Macedonia Baptist, Central Baptist and Monumental Baptist Churches and The People’s Team—have been given a trainer, provided by 1 On 1 Personal Training and Fitness, operated by Charles Cook and located in the Strip District, and a customized program plan. They hold fitness sessions two to three times a week where they are taught exercises and proper forms as well as given healthy eating tips. There is even a Walking Worship Wednesday where participants hold a workout session at their churches and then walk to Freedom Corner for a pep-rally and prayer.

Bi-weekly, participants are weighed in and have their blood pressure checked to track their status. By the end of the challenge, Aug. 13-15, the church as well as a participant from each church that has lost the largest percentage of weight will be awarded a monetary prize. The winning church, which will be announced in September at the annual Health & Wellness Weekend, will receive $2500 and the individual from each church will receive $250.

“This is a community-based health challenge that works through the churches first because the churches are the staple of our communities,” said Cook. “We’re going to the church and challenging the churches to get healthy.”

He added that the event is not just a walk, but also an opportunity to canvas the neighborhood in hopes of saving a life by bringing awareness about the importance of health.

While she will no longer be apart of UPMC after September, Singleton said in the wrap-up weeks of the challenge she is collaborating on a plan “that will help keep people motivated in gray months when it’s ‘good food holidays.’ Because it’s not just the winter, it’s winter and macaroni and cheese; the months where it’s harder to be motivated and we are tempted by our favorite holiday treats.”

By giving each of the participants tools that they can use at home, she said she hopes that they will continue the challenge long after August, or September, and even pass their new knowledge on to others.

The 60-Day Challenge, Singleton said, would not be possible without UPMC’s sponsorship, Charles Cook and 1 On 1 Fitness’ infrastructure, the community’s commitment to “making it real, live and working.”
The Hill District Health & Wellness Weekend will be held Sept. 11-13.

(For more information on Healthy Communities 365, visit

(J.L. Martello contributed to this article.)

Source: AshleyJohnson.

Date Published: 
Wednesday, July 15, 2015 | 412-765-1820 |

Serving the Greater Hill District of Pittsburgh, PA