By Tom Peterson

The FaithHealth division staff kept getting calls from people from around the country asking for help in developing programs similar to those at Wake Forest Baptist Health. So they decided to offer a day-long workshop twice a year. “It’s low-tech and highly relational,” says Emily Viverette, Director of FaithHealth Education, who manages the Learning Forum. “There aren’t a lot of PowerPoints or how-to’s, it’s really conversations with folks doing the on-the-ground work here.”

Participants hear the theory and funding of the initiatives. This is followed by an interview session where FaithHealth staff describe their various roles. Then in an exercise called “Shift and Share” small groups move around the room for interactive briefings on various topics such as community engagement, research and evaluation, and working with targeted populations.

The forums are open to anyone and usually include an interesting mix of participants: clergy, senior-level hospital leaders, and people from community agencies. “The broader and more diverse, the better the conversation,” says Viverette. “And we always see this as collaborative learning. We learn as much from the people who come as those who share.”

While most participants come from North Carolina, others come from across the country. Viverette reports that the last Forum included people from West Virginia, Texas, and New Jersey. And many spend an extra night to come back the next morning for an open session that’s smaller and more tailored to dialog on specific issues.

Go figure out how to do it

“So, if I were working in a hospital and had been hearing about this “FaithHealth” thing, this is the kind of program I should come to,” says Viverette. “Sometimes, we have people who have been tasked by their administrators who tell them, ‘We want to do this work. Go figure out how to do it. They send people to the Learning Forum for that purpose.” Their backgrounds vary widely, she says. “Some are chaplains, some are nurses and others work with community benefit.”

Over time, the forum is building a learning community of people that stretches across the state and the nation. Donna Stauber of Texas-based Baylor Scott & White Health says she was able to learn what the various speakers did in their day-to-day work. “I saw how they referred the patients; how they worked with the CPE [chaplaincy training] programs; how those chaplains were interacting and placed around the city at the different homeless shelters, and domestic violence shelters,” she says. “I saw how they connected with the community. It was a short day-and-a-half conference but it had pretty much all of the things you need to get an idea of what Faith Health is like.”

Participants like Stauber take what they learn and adapt them to fit the work in their own communities and situations. “We have taken Wake Forest’s model of the ‘connector,’ a retired nurse or other professional who is willing to spend, say, eight hours a week maybe working with 20 or 25 churches to connect that area. That is working really well.”

“There’s a lot of energy and lots of fun at the Learning Forums, says Viverette. “And we learn something every time we do it.”