Talking Health

This month's summit focuses on community wellness

Ywca Velva Jenkins Main

Making health care accessible and affordable to everyone is a big hill to climb, but the YWCA Lower Cape Fear hopes that an event this month will raise awareness about the barriers to equitable health care and help area leaders map out a path up that hill.

Supported by a grant from United Healthcare, the YWCA is hosting a daylong event May 19: Health Summit-Empowering and Building Healthier Communities. Its agenda is ambitious.

“The purpose of the summit is to empower the community to take charge of their own health,” says VELVA JENKINS, CEO of the YWCA Lower Cape Fear. “I’m not sure if this kind of thing has been done in Wilmington before, but we’ve been working toward this for the past year. Our signature sponsor, United Healthcare Services, gave us $20,000 to develop and execute a health literacy campaign targeting women and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities focused on reducing the prevalence of health risks linked to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular health, etc. and increasing overall health literacy in underserved communities.”

In Brunswick County, the YWCA partnered with Novant Health on health care seminars and workshops. It developed a handout included in packets for Habitat for Humanity’s new homeowners to give them more information on health equity.

One step in helping people, especially those in underserved communities, live healthier lives and become advocates for their own health care is to make them aware of the many social determinants of health and how they affect their lives, Jenkins says. It’s not just helping people get better access to medical care, she adds. It’s improving housing as well as educating people on food and nutrition.

LINDA THOMPSON, chief diversity and equity officer for New Hanover County and one of the health summit’s participants, says poverty certainly affects health equity, as – sometimes – does a person’s race, gender, and varying abilities.

“Initiatives like (the Health Summit) are part of what we are trying to do,” she says, explaining that the county’s Office of Diversity and Equity was created in 2020 by the county’s commissioners “to ensure we are all serving our community through an equity lens and being as inclusive as possible in treating our residents and visitors.”

Jenkins says one of the summit’s important messages is involving different parts of the community.

“We’re hoping we will have businesses (represented) and health care leaders as well,” Jenkins says, “also elected officials, who can bring this information to the forefront when it comes to policy.”

Jenkins points to the recent discovery of widespread mold in some local public housing developments.

“These are people who are socially and economically vulnerable. They’ve not just lost their furniture and a place to live: There’s a health and emotional and mental health impact. There are children living in a moldy home. We want these children to grow up to be productive citizens, but mold can get established in your lungs. This vulnerable population expected others to keep them safe and here they are, living in hotels for a while.”

Thompson, who will emcee the daylong Health Summit, provides another example of a health issue that affects a vulnerable population.

“Duke University has been doing research on fishing in our waters and the fact that we shouldn’t be eating those fish,” she says. “I had no clue, no idea that fishing around here was becoming a health concern. So many people fish to support their families – Hispanics, African Americans, poor whites. We need to educate individuals on the danger of eating those fish and give them information on other food resources. Our office is going directly into those communities and sharing that information.”

Summit attendees will hear from three featured speakers and attend panel discussions. The event begins with breakfast and focuses on four determinants of health: access to health care; food and nutrition; safe and affordable housing; and socioeconomic factors. It concludes with a call to develop transformative leadership to create healthy communities.

YWCA Lower Cape Fear Health Summit

“Empowering and building healthier communities”

Thursday, May 19, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cape Fear Community College’s Union Station,
Windell Daniels Hall | 502 North Front Street

Info and registration:

Continuing education units are available for attendees

Event Speakers include:

  • Linda Thompson, New Hanover County Office of Diversity and Equity
  • Evelyn Bryant, Board President, YWCA Lower Cape Fear
  • Linda Haddad, UNCW School of Nursing
  • Cierra Washington, Northside Food Co-Op
  • Margaret Mitchell, President & CEO, YWCA USA
  • Meaghan Dennison, Cape Fear Collective
  • Tanya Stewart Blackmon, Auspen Consulting
  • Wanda Coley, UnitedHealthCare

To view more of photographer Terah Hoobler’s work, go to

Want more WILMA? Click here to sign up for our WILMA newsletters and announcements.

Categories: Features