Kendra Otero has always nurtured life. After 14 years as a labor and delivery nurse, this passion led her in a new direction, one with ancient roots, modern implications and an unexpected setting — her church.
Otero was recently commissioned as the faith community nurse for First Congregational Church of Winter Park thanks to a grant from the Winter Park Health Foundation. First Presbyterian Church of Maitland and Redeemer Lutheran Church in Winter Park were also recipients of the three-year program that began in February.
The faith community nurse’s role is not clinical. It’s focused on health and lifestyle education, physician and resource referrals and an increased awareness of choices that promote a healthy lifestyle, said Lisa Portelli, program director of Community Health Policy for Winter Park Health Foundation.
The community nurse and her team create customized programs based on health assessments using preventative models that might include walking clubs, stress relief programs and support groups for chronic diseases such as diabetes or cancer. They will also act as referral agents and provide guidance about the health care system.
Otero remains centered by her mission.
“We want to help people make lifestyle choices to prevent sickness. For those with chronic diseases, we can help them with referrals and provide spiritual care, with a quiet, listening presence.”
Targeting the youth
She recently sat with kids at the Young Church service and talked about healthy eating and lifestyle choices.
Dommerich Elementary fifth-grader Tabby Gentle paid attention. “I wash my hands a lot, brush my teeth and take a shower every day,” Gentle said. “And I ride my scooter for an hour.”
Gentle is one of the nearly 200 children and youth at First Congregational Church who may enjoy the healthy summer programming Otero is planning:
• The Vacation Bible School program will focus on healthy eating and exercise programs related to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program.
• The Jeremiah Project summer program for Boys and Girls Clubs in Eatonville, Pine Hills and Winter Park will include interactive programs about choosing and making healthy snacks.
Associate Minister Karen Barker-Duncan sees opportunity in the new program. “Winter Park Health Foundation is a wonderful partner, and Kendra and her team will be working on the assessments and new health programs.
“Just don’t call her when you get a cold — that’s not what she does.”
Otero understands healing touches body and soul. “We can heal suffering even when we can’t cure the disease. Walking a spiritual journey with people helps make them whole even when they are sick.”
Throughout the Lenten season, Otero’s church serves Wednesday night suppers of soups and salads, and the church family can participate in healthy group activities such as yoga, pottery, choir and dance.
Senior Minister Bryan Fulwider of First Congregational Church of Winter Park shares his support. “People are truly excited to have a parish nurse. We see this as a long-term commitment, not just the next three years,” he said.
Congregational Life Director Trixie Richter of Redeemer Lutheran Church agrees. “We are very excited to be selected and to help our congregation and community with their health decisions.”
Candace Huber, director of the Florida Hospital Center for Community Health Ministry Parish Nurse Institute, explained the relevance of modern parish nursing in a Ministry Magazine article in August 2009:
“It empowers people to obtain knowledge of their body, mind and spirit; to gain control over unhealthy habits and lifestyles and to access professionals who assist in managing the issues of life.”
Winter Park Health Foundation