Share The Health

Helping to Build a Bridge


Cathie Duncan and Marj Bernstein have been friends for most of their adult lives. Both retired from Frederick County Public Schools, the two women are members of the Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ (ERUCC). Although they did not know one another at the time, Cathie and Marj each gave birth to a daughter– two days apart, on the same floor of the same hospital—26 years ago. And perhaps most profoundly, both women are cancer survivors—a shared experience that has further cemented their lifelong bond.

Today, Cathie and Marj live in the same neighborhood, and often find themselves drawn to similar ways of serving their community. Earlier this year, the two women became part of the first cohort of FMH Bridges, an innovative community outreach program that has been created to build partnerships between the Frederick medical, religious, and neighborhood communities. The plan is to train local individuals as Lay Health Educators, and support them in incorporating a health and wellness strategy into the regular routines of their shared communities — such as churches, synagogues, or community associations.

“Our training was approximately three hours long, once a week, for ten weeks,” said Marj. “Each class focused on a particular topic, such as heart disease, diabetes, or women’s health, and were designed and taught by FMH experts in that subject matter. Every week, we were provided with a set of educational materials on the topic—things like PowerPoint slides, fact sheets, diagrams and other helpful resources — that we could then customize to reflect our congregation’s culture, beliefs, and values. By the end of the series of classes, each of us had a binder filled with useful materials and tools.”

After Lay Health Educators complete their training, it is expected that they will return to their home organization and talk with its leaders about bringing the program to life. Some have built it into the Sunday announcements or a weekly social, while others—like Marj and Cathie’s congregation– have created a more formalized program as part of their Health Ministry.

“Marj and I had recently completed the Bridges’ training for Lay Health Educators when ERUCC’s Health and Wellness committee met to discuss Christian education topics for our adult learners,” said Cathie. “I suggested we utilize a few of the topics from our Bridges training program. This idea was met with great interest and enthusiasm, and we quickly developed a 5-week program about these issues called It’s a Matter of Life and Death, Living Fully. Various segments were presented including Having the Conversation, Advanced Directives, Hospice Care, and Planning a Funeral. The last two weeks of the series dealt with Grief.”

Cathie says that even though the presentations required difficult discussions, they were well received within the congregation. “The participants enjoyed the oral presentations, including the PowerPoint given to us during our Bridges training, and many other resources we received in our classes.”

Cathie and Marj have also presented on How to Talk to Your Doctor and Medication Management, which were also well received by attendees.

“The Bridges program has already been a wonderful resource for our church community,” said Marj. “Cathie and I are pleased to be able to help FMH provide information and tools to the members of our church community to help them improve their family’s health and wellness.”

Interested in learning more about becoming a Lay Health Educator? Call Janet Harding at 240-566-3465 or email Connect with Bridges at