Original HEAL Partner Says Course Changed Lives

2017 Class Members

The Our HEALing Kitchen group at New Zion Tabernacle sliced and prepped ingredients. They cooked together in small teams. They used unfamiliar spices and sampled new recipes. But most importantly, they learned how to live healthy.

Debbie Powers

“It’s amazing to hear some of the changes they made,” said Debbie Powers, who coordinated the church’s nutritious cooking class.

New Zion was among the original partners selected in 2016 when Our HEALing Kitchen first issued mini grants to local nonprofits and churches. Powers’ group consistently shined, because many of the same members returned to take the course year after year.

But after four go-rounds, New Zion signed off for its final “alumni” session last fall. About two dozen members have taken the church’s course since 2016, sharing what they learned with their families and friends. This spring, members will reunite at the Parkview Greenhouse and Community Kitchen to celebrate. Some say their stint with HEAL changed their lives.

Susie Nelson, like some other African Americans, didn’t realize she could “cook healthy, culturally-speaking,” she says.

Nelson has participated since the beginning. “HEAL taught me the value of meal planning and experimenting with different foods,” she says today. “What I learned was invaluable. Out of this experience came a new me.”

Bridget Jones took the course three times. She learned the importance of eating healthy, exercising, and knowing her own body. When her blood pressure was high last year, she put knowledge from previous Our HEALing Kitchen sessions into practice. She started drinking healthy green smoothies and eating more salads and lean proteins. Her blood pressure dropped significantly, back to the safe zone.

“Eating healthy and being active does work,” Jones wrote in a testimonial.

Eleven members participated in New Zion’s 2019 session. Together, they lost a total of about 100 pounds over the course’s span. Since 2016, more members have reported lowered blood pressure, increased energy, and success in managing diabetes, among other healthful changes, Powers says.

2017 Class

The proven garden-to-table curriculum had similar effects in groups countywide. Since 2016, the HEAL Program has awarded 122 grants that funded 163 classes and reached 1,750 participants, so far. The course guide offers more than 100 recipes and a bounty of lessons, including food preservation, reading labels, snacks for kids, and more. Groups can’t cover all of the material in one eight-session course. So, many host it repeatedly.

Our HEALing Kitchen came at the right time for New Zion. Four years ago, Bishop Crystal Thomas Bush felt God calling her to minister to “the whole person,” she says, “body, soul, and spirt.” The church gathered materials for an exercise room and, when leaders heard about HEAL, Powers agreed to facilitate.

Laura Dwire, Bp. Crystal Thomas Bush, and Rudy Kachmann.

“There’s a connection between our physiology and our spirituality,” Bishop Bush says. “The two work in harmony. When there’s disharmony, people can’t reach their potential.”

For Powers, ending HEAL is bittersweet.

“We created a close bond,” Powers says, “cooking together, fellowshipping together, sharing recipes.”

She remembers the early days when people were emphatic about not liking certain foods. No cauliflower, they said. No tofu, no beets. HEAL recipes changed many of their minds.

“They all hated hummus,” Powers says with a chuckle, “but now they like it.”

Much of their staying power rests with Powers. She tailored the curriculum to her group, creating competitions and quizzes, inviting guest speakers, and organizing elaborate graduation ceremonies each year. In fact, she invited members to regular meetings year-round that involved cooking and health under the New Zion Wellness Ministry.

Now, the church is gauging interest to see if any members want to take Our HEALing Kitchen for the first time. But regardless, Powers says the wellness ministry and its other activities will continue. The group invited teenagers to their church for a special outreach event last year. They shared nutritional information and taught teens how to make healthy quesadillas.  

“We wanted to take our ministry out, telling people this is what we learned,” Powers says.

Bush says she sees HEAL’s effects. She has more stamina to do the Lord’s work these days. Her congregation isn’t free of all health challenges, but members seem healthier and are reaching goals.

“People are doing better,” she says, “because they’re feeling better.”