Volunteering to promote health and wellness throughout Maryland
By Karen Ashton-Sterling and Special to the Community Times
Feb 11, 2015 at 9:00 AM
Health care has been my passion for over 25 years. I began my career as a respiratory therapist to help those who suffer from respiratory illnesses and lung diseases. Though I am a resident of Baltimore County, I have been able to volunteer in the health sphere in various areas throughout Maryland. I have had the opportunity to volunteer with the American Lung Association as an asthma educator and have worked with the public at health fairs to educate and give information about symptoms, prevention of asthma attacks and medication used for asthma. I currently volunteer as a board member for the Mid-Atlantic Asthma Foundation in Harford County.
It is very important to me to help educate those in our community, regardless of color, gender or economic status, who have very few resources with respect to health education. More specifically, I think it's very important to address the disparities in the African-American communities with regard to health education, adolescent obesity and health care resources for the underprivileged. One of the ways I have tried to address the disparities in health care in my community is by organizing and participating in local health fairs and giving information about healthy eating, asthma symptom prevention, and basic pulmonary function testing. The results I give people at these health fairs can then be given to their physicians so that they can follow up with more extensive testing.
One of the highlights for me last year was when I was asked to participate in a program for elementary school children in Baltimore City that included reading, safety and physical activity. As part of the physical activity, children were encouraged to dance, sing and express themselves through movement. I was able to teach children zumba as part of the event.
I am an active member of Shiloh Baptist Church of Baltimore County and have led many health initiatives as its health and wellness chairperson. I approached my pastor in August 2011 with the idea to create a ministry to address health issues and provide education and resources on a variety of issues dealing with health. Many years prior to this, a nursing ministry had been created, but it did not address the wide range of health issues about which I wanted to educate the public. I began the health and wellness ministry as a way to encourage, educate and empower our church members and community with respect to health. For the last 10 years — even before I formed the health and wellness ministry — I, along with some wonderful volunteers, have had very successful health fairs at the church, all of which were open to the community. The events have featured several different agencies, hospitals and nursing groups who have willingly and lovingly donated their time and resources to give information and education to the church and community.
I have always been physically active and an advocate for physical, mental and spiritual health. In 2013, I became a licensed zumba instructor, and a year later received my certification for group fitness instruction from the Aerobic and Fitness Association of America, of which I have been a member for the last two years. I wanted to do more to help those individuals who needed encouragement and to empower them to be the best that they could be. I contacted the American Heart Association to see what informational resources they could give me to pass out to my participants, both at church and in my zumba classes. I was asked by the American Heart Association to lead a zumba effort to engage and excite the participants with dance and physical activity as part of its health walk which is held in Baltimore City and Howard County in the fall.
I also inquired as to what other volunteer activities I could undertake to further educate women about heart health and stroke prevention. I am a volunteer at the American Heart Association's annual Heart Ball, which is held every February to raise money and awareness concerning heart health and stroke prevention. I was asked to become part of the Passion Committee for the American Heart Association and become one of its Go Red ambassadors to help spread the word about women's heart disease in 2012, and have continued to volunteer every year since.
I am so excited and humbled to be part of such a wonderful organization that gives information and empowers women with the tools to learn about heart disease and stroke prevention. I will continue to spread the word about heart disease — the cause, ways in which to prevent heart attack and stroke, the signs and symptoms of heart attack and stroke, and what we can do to help ourselves. Heart disease affects millions of women in this country every year and some of those cases can be prevented through diet, exercise, education and knowing the facts.
I hope to continue to volunteer and work with organizations that further healthy initiatives and education so that we all may live healthy and happy lives and be the best that we possibly can be.
The Volunteer Voices section highlights outstanding volunteers in the Baltimore County area. If you're a volunteer and are interested in submitting to the series, please email email@example.com.