Content starts here
AARP AARP States South Carolina Health & Wellbeing

Working to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

Senior African American man and granddaughter

When it comes to helping people reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes and improve their overall health, Aisha Thurston knows from experience that moderation and patience are key.

Thurston lost 97 pounds over four years by regularly exercising and choosing nutritious foods. Thurston, a 67-year-old Ladson resident, recently shared her message of moderation with members of three Black churches in the state as part of a type 2 diabetes prevention program.

“Our health didn’t get to where it is overnight,” says Thurston, a facilitator for the Southeast Diabetes Faith Initiative. “You have to do better for a healthier lifestyle.”

The program—run by the nonprofit The Balm in Gilead—aims to help those at risk of developing type 2 diabetes learn how to eat healthy, stay active and track their progress. AARP funded an expansion of the program into Charleston and Columbia last year.

From July 2022 through June, nearly 340 congregants from 11 churches enrolled, surpassing the initial goal of 250.

AARP is considering a request from The Balm in Gilead to build on that success by adding churches in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia later this fall, as well as increasing participation in South Carolina.

Addressing racial disparities

As part of the expansion into Columbia and Charleston, AARP South Carolina volunteers visited churches to speak on topics such as heart disease, diabetes and mental health, as well as general AARP resources and services.

The program, which uses curricula developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is one way AARP is working to address racial health disparities in the state.

A 2021 AARP-funded report showed that Black South Carolinians have higher rates of death from heart disease, higher rates of diabetes and a greater rate of high blood pressure, compared with their white counterparts.

“It’s an opportunity for AARP to participate in a program that can really change people’s lives,” says Jo Pauling-Jones, AARP South Carolina advocacy and outreach director. She notes that teaming up with Black churches, which are trusted institutions in communities, is crucial.

The Rev. Charles McLamore, 69, pastor of Greater Beard Chapel AME Church in Charleston, lost 18 pounds himself as he led about 11 program participants in his church of 75 people.

“If you overeat, you’re going to end up with some devastating health problems—with your heart, your kidneys, even your brain,” he says.

McLamore’s church, still reeling from several parishioners’ deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, joined the diabetes prevention program in January. Participants meet weekly for classes and other activities, such as walking tours and bowling. One Saturday, they worked in a community garden.

The togetherness approach works well in his older congregation, McLamore says: “It was just what the doctor ordered.”

To learn more about the Southeast Diabetes Faith Initiative, go to

Linda H. Lamb is a writer living in Columbia.

The AARP Minute: April 4, 2022

More on Diabetes

About AARP South Carolina
Contact information and more from your state office. Learn what we are doing to champion social change and help you live your best life.