Health department presents 2014 Public Health Hero awards to Lexington minister, baby health program

esimon@herald-leader.comApril 11, 2014 

At Imani Baptist Church, there are worship services and Sunday school classes.

And at Imani Family Life Center, there is a variety of sports programs, including baseball, football and gymnastics; a weight room; a soccer field; a walking track, and an aerobics room where Zumba classes are held.

It's the involvement in the physical side of well- being that resulted in the Rev. Willis Polk, pastor at the church, being selected as a 2014 Public Health Hero by the Lexington- Fayette County Health Department's Board of Health.

The award is given annually to individuals who have worked to improve the health of Lexington residents.

Polk, who's also executive director of Imani Family Life Center, has "answered calls on numerous occasions" to support the health department, said Laura Collins, nurse coordinator, public health and communicable disease.

Polk has provided space for the Free Flu Friday event the past two Octobers, which has allowed public health officials to give almost 3,600 free flu shots; has partnered with the health department on community grants, and has worked on health improvements within his church.

"There has never been anything public health-wise that we've asked Polk to do that he wasn't willing to participate in. He is such a great support for us in the community," Collins said.

Health awareness has always been important to Polk.

"My health-conscious ways started before my pastoring days; it might just be a little bit in my DNA," he said, "On my father's side, my great-great-uncle was Dr. John Polk. The Polk-Dalton Clinic on Elm Tree Lane, that's my great-great-uncle."

His health-oriented attitude has helped Polk with efforts at his church.

The Imani Life Center includes two college-size basketball courts and a fitness center, a bulletin board dedicated to health news, and a health and wellness committee whose job is to raise health awareness.

"Each month we have something on the bulletin board that addresses a particular illness," Polk said. "Also, we have health-related brochures. I tell people all the time to take them home, put them on someone's table or beside their own beds."

On April 27, Imani Baptist will hold a blood drive before, during and after services.

Polk's healthy ways have been part of his ministry, too.

"I've always had something in my ministry that spoke to the needs of health concerns," he said.

In addition to Polk, Baby Health Services, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, has been selected as a 2014 Public Health Hero.

Baby Health Services, 1590 Harrodsburg Road, provides free quality medical care to children from birth to age 17, with services such as drop-in sick visits, lab tests and free medicine.

In 2013, nearly 2,000 children received free care through Baby Health Services, and the volunteered medical services were valued at $233,000 in savings to the community.

Polk and Baby Health Services will be recognized at Monday's board of health meeting at 5:45 p.m. at the health department, 650 Newtown Pike.

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