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Healthier Hearts for All

By: Judith Mutamba

February is Black History month, and it is also a special month for people who celebrate Valentine’s Day. The two have something in common, the heart!

One year ago, Catholic Charities and its collaborative partners launched the Mid-Missouri Self-Management of Blood Pressure (Mid-MO SMBP) program to address hypertension. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a major chronic health problem which leads to coronary disease – the number one cause of premature deaths in adults in America and globally. Hypertension is also related to heart function, blood flow, and cardiovascular disease (CVD). While heart disease is the leading cause of death in Missouri, hypertension and CVD mortality is markedly higher for Black and African American community members than their White peers.

The Mid-MO SMBP program, supported by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), aims to equip hypertensive adults with knowledge and self-confidence to manage their blood pressures. Under the guidance of CDC-trained facilitators at sites local to participants, people enrolled in this program can more accurately measure their blood pressure toward their health goals.

These CDC-trained facilitators are community members who volunteer their time to complete training, register with a local site, and meet with enrolled participants. While some of the facilitators have a background or special interest in healthcare, others are drawn to volunteer because they desire to support their community members in preventing premature health complications and deaths due to uncontrolled blood pressure.

So, as you can see, February is indeed a very special month to talk about this initiative! Healthy hearts ­– full of love and life – are important to us at Catholic Charities, the members of our Mid-MO SMBP task force, and each of the facilitators and sites that our neighbors visit to better care for their blood pressure.

It is a privilege for me, as the director of Health and Nutrition Services at Catholic Charities, to see this program come to fruition in Boone and Cole Counties, and I hope to see it continue growing. Participating in and assisting with facilitator training has been inspiring, and I’ve encountered many individuals through the year who have a true heart for service. One such volunteer is Sharron Parker.

In December of 2021 Sharron became a trained facilitator of the Mid-MO SMBP program and was onboarded as an active volunteer for Catholic Charities. Her interest in volunteering with the program stemmed from personal experiences with high blood pressure – she had many connections to friends, family, and community members suffering from hypertension and wanted to help.

She shared with me unreservedly that as an African American she seemed to have “inherited” her hypertension from her mother who was both hypertensive and diabetic. Of course, knowing the American Heart Association’s data highlighting disparities in CVD by race and ethnicity, I too, was aware that Black and African Americans find themselves at much higher risk of this health issue.

Sharron’s interest in health information and her desire to share that with her community ultimately prompted her to do more. Now, she is enjoying immensely the ability to learn and serve.

Working closely with our Food Programs Coordinator in the Catholic Charities Food Pantry, Sharron engages with neighbors and helps identify those who are hypertensive and qualify for the program. She then helps get those interested in enrolling in the four-month-long program. When she meets with participants, she teaches them when and how to accurately measure their blood pressure at home with a blood pressure cuff. Sharron also checks in with them about their lifestyles and shares how changes in diet and exercise can help positively impact blood pressure readings.

It has been a gift to me, to see Sharron give back to her community in such a personal and helpful way. While our staff help to host and provide facilitator trainings, the Mid-MO SMBP is implemented largely by volunteers just like Sharron. As we advance into 2023, we are set to see even more of these passionate volunteers receive and complete training to facilitate the program at their own local sites.

If you are living with hypertension, I would strongly encourage you to visit our website to learn more about the Mid-MO SMBP program and check to see if enrolling could help you reach your health goals. If you are looking for a way to serve those in your own community dealing with hypertension, I invite you to contact us about the volunteer opportunities and upcoming trainings we are organizing to confidently help reduce hypertension in your community. You can do this, and more, online at

Let us, together, see those hearts get healthier and happier this season and throughout the year!

Judith R. Mutamba (Bs MMSc, MS) is the Director of Health and Nutrition Services at Catholic Charities. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics – Food and Nutrition with emphasis in Dietetics from University of Missouri (MU), a Masters of Medical Sciences from University of Uppsalla (Sweden), and a second Masters in Nutrition Exercise & Physiology from MU.  She is currently a doctoral student in health administration with the University of Phoenix, Arizona. Judith’s passion is on addressing chronic diet-related diseases. She sees her role and mission, as that of translating relevant research into action – addressing chronic health disparities, working with other partners in the under-served communities.

Judith Mutamba (left), director of Catholic Charities Health and Nutrition Services awards Sharron Parker (right) her Certificate of Completion for “Protecting God’s Children” component of VIRTUS training for the Diocese of Jefferson City. Completing this program was the last step for Sharron in finalizing her onboarding as a volunteer for Catholic Charities.
Sharron Parker (right) helps another volunteer correctly attach a blood pressure monitor to their arm as part of their CDC-certified training in the Mid-MO Self-Management of Blood Pressure program.