Skip Navigation

The Advance Project Profile: Joy-Southfield Community Health - Detroit


Crafts help children learn about Healthy Eating Activity and Learning (HEAL) during workshops Joy-Southfield offers for families and in schools.
Crafts help children learn about Healthy Eating Activity and Learning (HEAL) during workshops Joy-Southfield offers for families and in schools.

In 2001, Second Grace United Methodist Church on Detroit's West Side set out to start a community-revitalization program with family life skills and economic and community development in its neighborhood. However, realizing a healthy community begins with healthy people, the congregation soon expanded that vision to include a free clinic.

A mini-clinic operated in the church's nursery twice a month from 2002 to 2005 until the 3,900-square-foot Joy-Southfield Community Health and Education Center(Advance #3020437) was built on church property across the street. The facility, opened in 2006, initially focused on primary and preventive health care.

"We were just astounded by what was really a tsunami of common chronic diseases – Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, asthma, cardiovascular disease," said Dave Law, Joy-Southfield executive director. They added preventive health education and chronic-disease-management support groups.

Joy-Southfield's approach to combating obesity now includes school programs and family workshops about good nutrition and physical activity. Staff often conduct sessions in local churches.

However, while area residents were being told to improve their nutrition and physical activity, they lived in a so-called "food desert" with limited access to affordable, healthy food and an abundance of cheap, unhealthy food, Law said.

The center addressed those issues by launching community gardens and a farmer's market. Youth exercised by working and gained knowledge as entrepreneurs by selling their produce. Participants rehabilitated parks. Two liquor stores in the community were reinvented, one as a restaurant, the other as a full-service grocery store with fresh produce, meat and poultry.

Joy-Southfield offers high-quality health care to a patient base of about 1,700 people and provided 3,300 free clinic visits last year.

"People in Detroit are dying prematurely from preventable illness," Law said. "It's happening in other parts of the country, too, and that's absolutely a betrayal of God's will. It's just absolutely immoral. It's an aberration. It's just not supposed to happen.

"We can't just think about what happens in the clinic. We have to see what's happening out in the community," he said. "Let's work on clinical care, but let's also make this a healthy community, where people have easy access to affordable, healthy food; where they feel safe going outside to exercise; where they can get whatever they need right there.

"That's our vision. ... It's happened. We're chipping away at one community," Law said.

Tom Gillem is a freelance writer and photographer based in Brentwood, Tenn.