WOODLEAF, NC– For over 11 years now, Woodleaf United Methodist Church (UMC) has made health a priority in their community. Sybil Perell, founder of the program, was a nurse for 10 years before she began working full-time for Woodleaf UMC’s health ministry. Sybil Perrell spoke about how the program began and really hit the ground running based on the needs of their community: “The focus to begin with was on preventive health and still is. We do an annual health fair where everything is free to the public. We usually have vendors from the community come and speak to people about how their services can be a resource to their ministries. We do free A1C [diabetes blood test] and cholesterol checks, and free flu shots.” Sybil further emphasized the importance of involving the entire community in the health fair: “There’s a high poverty rate and folks can’t afford to get vital tests done because they don’t have insurance. We have a referral program so we can set them up with proper treatment and medication.”
Along with the annual health fair, Woodleaf UMC hosts exercise classes 4 days each week that are free and open to the public. The exercise classes range from chair aerobics and yoga to Tai Chi relaxation and toning. The classes were designed by Sybil and certified yoga instructor (and former health-lead) Katrena Wells. The aspect of preventive care is especially highlighted through these classes as they are built for individuals at any level. Sybil elaborated more on why these classes are a cornerstone of the ministry: “I’ve had people with the exercise program come to me and tell me how much it has helped them. We have a member of the congregation receiving dialysis treatment, and she comes on her off day for the chair aerobics. It’s difficult for her to do exercises, but this has helped her stay flexible and active.”
Another key area of Woodleaf’s health program is their visitation program. A small group of individuals from the church visit those in the community who are unable to attend church events to speak with them about their health, provide expert advice on any medical concerns, provide transportation to doctor’s appointments, explain medications, and overall provide a support system. Sybil mentioned that the support system is really what has made the program so meaningful for everyone in the community: “We have people who we visit on a regular basis and they tell us that we make their day. Seeing us helps them understand their health better and feel better educated on how to care for themselves and what to ask their doctor.” She even mentioned that participants in the exercise classes have developed such wonderful camaraderie that they check-up on those who miss class!
Woodleaf UMC’s health ministry exemplifies the significant role of faith communities in the delivery of important, life-saving health services. Their robust ministry has provided care to individuals when they did not have access, educational classes and resources on topics such as Alzheimer’s and other mental illnesses, and exercise classes, just to name a few. This significance has been recognized by Atrium Health as they are formal partners with Woodleaf UMC. We are grateful to have been formally partnered with Woodleaf UMC since 2011, and look forward to continuing this journey of abundant living together. Thank you to Sybil Perrell and the entire congregation at Woodleaf UMC for your work!