Community Wellness Initiative pushes healthy food, healthy people
Deloyd Parker, Dr. Munish Chawla, Dr. Kimberly Adams, Terry Garner, Dola Young, Dr. Bandana Chawla and Sherra Aguirre. Photo by Aswad Walker.

In 3rd Ward, several entities are banding together to provide body, mind and spirit nourishment for adults and youth, alike. SHAPE Community Center, the Alabama Garden, Blodgett Urban Garden, Palm Center Garden and Peaceful Planet Foundation have partnered to provide solutions to several current and longstanding food/health challenges.

The Community Wellness Initiative (CWI) started as an outgrowth of local author/activist Sherra Aguirre’s book “Joyful, Delicious, Vegan: Life Without Heart Disease.”

“I wrote it because I’m very passionate about health and wellness,” said Aguirre. “A lot of that’s due to my family history of heart disease, which is typical of a lot of African American families. So, I wanted to share the message that there are ways to actually prevent or even reverse it with a healthy, plant-strong diet.”

Deloyd Parker, Dr. Munish Chawla, Dr. Kimberly Adams, Terry Garner, Dola Young, Dr. Bandana Chawla and Sherra Aguirre. Photo by Aswad Walker.

After issuing the call, several of Aguirre’s friends responded, including Dola Young, a retired attorney and SHAPE supporter recently certified as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach.

“The initiative is about getting a group of grassroots people who want their own health to be improved, and then sharing that information with their family and community,” said Young, about the initiative’s “each one, teach one” approach.

“Basically, it’s a group of community health ambassadors,” said Dr. Bandana Chawla, who with her husband Dr. Munish Chawla, are physicians who are board certified in lifestyle medicine, and founders of their nonprofit, Peaceful Planet Foundation. “These 19 people are learning all that they can about nutrition, exercise, stress management, gardening, just various things, so that they can then be the ambassadors of health in their own community, and teach this information to their friends and family and community members.”

“Chronic diseases, whether it’s diabetes or heart disease or obesity, they’re caused by our diet and lifestyle,” said Dr. Munish Chawla. “We need to fix that, otherwise we can throw all the pills, all the procedures [at them, but] we’re not addressing the root cause.”

The Chawlas said Aguirre’s initiative was consistent with their work that seeks to address patients from a holistic (mind, body and spirit) approach, with community being a foundational component.

And that’s where SHAPE came in. Aguirre and SHAPE’s director Deloyd Parker were college classmates, who, along with other UH students in the late 1960s helped found SHAPE.

Community Wellness Initiative members getting photo taken by SHAPE staff member. Photo by Aswad Walker.

“To come full-circle now and to be able to do something that is an asset hopefully to SHAPE and also a benefit to the community is so rewarding. The other thing that’s really rewarding is this amazing group, this committee that came together. And people just volunteered,” said Aguirre of the dream team behind the CWI. This includes Terry Garner, coordinator of the Alabama Garden in Third Ward and the Palm Center Garden off Griggs, and Dr. Kimberly Adams, executive director, Blodgett Urban Garden, along with Young, Parker and the Chawlas.

“We have a six-week program for SHAPE children that teaches kids about the importance of gardening, how to garden and where certain fruits and veggies come from, how they’re grown, and how to maintain them,” said Garner.

Adams, whose Blodgett Urban Garden provided CWI participants with prepackaged bags of organic food, including eggplants, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, corn, peppers, herbs and more, enjoyed witnessing participants’ health improvements.

“That was my favorite part, teaching individuals how they can use different organic foods to eat healthy, different types of meals that they could easily prepare that would take 10-25 minutes or less, and watching the health benefits in them transform their lives in 30 days,” said Adams.

“I’m excited that we’ve embraced a very comprehensive and holistic approach to good health,” said Parker. “SHAPE is honored to be hosting and participating in this partnership. Because that’s what it is, a comprehensive partnership that’s about healthy living and healthy life.”

~Sherra Aguirre contributed to this article