UCOM Works to Build a Culture of Health
By Nathan Slauer and Katie Vanderwal, reprinted with permission
Deep breathing, quiet chatter, and shared stories marked the end of one of the latest classes at United Church Outreach Ministry (UCOM), which is based in Wyoming, Mich. Rather than the room emptying and people scattering back to their busy lives, neighbors stayed to talk one on one with the instructors after the recent healthy living class. Students from Calvin University’s nursing program partnered with UCOM to focus on mental health awareness. Instructors shared information about anxiety and depression, including signs, symptoms, and coping strategies. Together the class practiced this by writing personal affirmations to take with them back into the day. Quiet conversations continued as participants lingered, connecting and sharing.
This illustrates how holistic health efforts come together. Physical, emotional, and mental health are all important aspects of wellbeing. Access to food is an essential aspect of a person’s well-being, but it is only one of many components of wellness. With holistic health in mind, UCOM partnered with Calvin University’s nursing program to plan the mental health class. “This class fits into UCOM’s commitment to prioritizing a culture of health,” said Katie Vanderwal, Pantry Manager at UCOM. “It is important that we go beyond meeting people’s immediate needs and address root causes of poverty and inequality. Health plays a major role in this conversation.” Healthy living classes are a piece of UCOM’s broader value of cultivating a Culture of Health, in the workplace and in the community.
UCOM’s Culture of Health philosophy is a lens through which it addresses the root causes of poverty. Healthy choices in the food pantry, fresh local foods on the farm stand, home gardening in the Growing Green Neighbors gardening project, and a variety of healthy living focused classes all play a part in cultivating and prioritizing a Culture of Health for the community at UCOM.
Over 30 percent of Americans report experiencing anxiety and depression, and many are becoming more open about their mental health challenges. High-profile cases such as U.S. Senator John Fetterman checking into a facility for clinical depression show how mental health challenges can affect anyone regardless of their status or income level.
Hunger and mental health challenges are often interconnected. A 2022 CDC study found that food insecurity is associated with a 257 percent higher risk of anxiety and a 253 percent higher risk of depression.
UCOM’s mental health classes are part of an ongoing commitment to wellness. Upcoming opportunities include a follow up class on mental health, cooking demonstrations, a weekly walking club, and a series of seated exercise classes. “One of my favorite aspects of these classes is getting to see people feel more comfortable and confident taking an active role in their health and self-care.” Vanderwal says.
Additional information about UCOM’s wellness initiatives can be found online.
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