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Speaking the languages of diabetes: Providing hope in our Hispanic communities


In Lodi, there’s a pastor knocking on doors. But he’s not knocking on them to talk about the church, he’s knocking on them to talk about something affecting his community at an alarming rate: Diabetes. Pastor Victor Merida of the Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lodi, California, knocked on the doors of families surrounding his neighborhood and encouraged them to bring friends and family to his church on Thursday nights to learn about managing and preventing Type 2 diabetes.

San Joaquin County is noted for ranking 3rd in the state for the highest incidents of diabetes and prediabetes, and Lodi is part of this county. Jill Borth, nurse manager for care management at Adventist Health Lodi Memorial, recognized a need in the Hispanic community when she was performing diabetes screening at a local health fair. Jill saw a higher than average number of young Hispanic families with pre-diabetic and diabetic numbers during this screening—and she wanted to know why. What was keeping this community from learning how to prevent and manage diabetes? Was it a language barrier? Or a location issue?

Jill discovered that it was all the above. So she reached out to Rebecca Russell, community wellness and diabetes program director for Adventist Health’s Central Valley Network, for guidance and training to start a program in Lodi that would reach this specific at-risk population. Rebecca spearheaded the first Spanish diabetes management program in the Central Valley called Diabetes Among Friends, which is a fun, interactive support group series based on Scripps Health’s Project Dulce. Rebecca is a master trainer for Scripps, so she trained Jill and provide the tools necessary to start her own Diabetes Among Friends group in Lodi.

Class In Action 2

Pastor Merida was overjoyed to offer Jill a place to host her five-week support group series. Not only did he think his congregation could benefit from this educational series, but it also hit close to home for him. “I was borderline diabetic before this class started,” he says, adding that he lost his own mother to complications from diabetes. “And I’m Hispanic—our diets are typically rich with fried and sugary foods. After watching my family go through this disease, I knew I was next in line.” And after attending Jill’s classes every week, Pastor Merida says that making small changes in his diet is making a big difference.

During a typical class (which is free of charge) in the dining hall of the church, Jill gives an educational lesson about managing diabetes and prediabetes. During her discussions, she has a Spanish translator who relays her information to the group. They discuss goals from the previous week, celebrate successes and tackle any challenges they may have faced. It’s an interactive class and sometimes participants play educational games or do hands-on activities like making smoothies. These simple tasks have transformed the lives of the community members that come to the weekly group.

Yolanda, a young woman who has been attending Diabetes Among Friends in Lodi says that the class has been a joy for her and her mom, also named Yolanda, who comes to the classes with her. “I’ve learned a whole new way of eating healthy,” she says. “For example, I learned that lentils and beans are better than tortillas. Tortillas were life!” She says, laughing. Yolanda says her mom has started a walking program every day since they started coming to the class. “This has been an eye-opening experience for us,” Yolanda says. “I encourage everyone to come to a class like this!”

Yolanda And Yolanda 2

When Jill decided to have Diabetes Among Friends meet in Pastor Merida’s church, she was taken aback by how many people showed up from word of mouth, and how eager they were to learn how to live healthier. After the first week, a young mom told Jill that she’d learned how unhealthy sodas were for her family—so they stopped drinking them immediately. “It is so rewarding,” says Jill. “We have to find people where they are and bring the message to them."

Smoothies 2

Pastor Merida agrees. After watching over a dozen of his community members learn how to prevent and manage diabetes, he is thrilled with the results and is grateful that Jill’s program found a home in his church. Jill will start another Spanish series in January 2018 and will also have an English version in a local public library.

Jill and Pastor Merida may have two very different careers, but they both have the same passion for reaching the at-risk population of their community in a setting that works for them. “People are coming to churches,” says Pastor Merida. “When you come to church, it’s a joyful thing. This is our mission— it’s what’s expected of any child of God who knows something good who wants to teach, to love and bless others.

Group 2

For more information about the upcoming Diabetes Among Friends classes, check out Lodi Memorial’s events page or call (209) 333-3044.