When Verna Laboy heard the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services was looking for someone to be a health educator, she said it ignited her passion for health care. At the time, she had worked for over a decade in corporate insurance and said she didn’t have any of the qualifications the department was asking for “past breathing.” Nonetheless, she said public health was her destiny and accepted the position.
Now, Laboy leads the Live Well by Faith program, which works with the African-American community in Boone County experiencing health disparities. Laboy sets up health ministries in churches across Boone County to collaborate and offer programming to mitigate the effects of hypertension and diabetes.
Recently, the program noted no African-American churches in the area had AED defibrillator equipment. The program was able to provide this equipment and proper training on how to use it to six churches in the area. Laboy said she was excited and grateful her department doesn’t just talk about health disparities, it actively addresses them.
Why is health care so important?
I’ve always been passionate about my community here in Columbia. My father passed away two years ago from complications of diabetes. I have lots of family members dealing and living with complications from diabetes. We’re dying from preventable diseases. When I got tested after receiving this job, my A1C tested very close to being considered diabetic. You can dial that number back with behaviors, with your diet, with exercise. We can build community and coach one another, and that’s what Live Well By Faith is all about.
What is your greatest contribution to the Columbia community?
I think my greatest impact is my children. My ceiling is my children’s floor. You have Nikki McGruder here who is doing great work in the area of social justice and then my baby Adrian Clifton is in Brazil teaching in San Paulo at a private high school. I believe my contribution is strong children who understand what making a contribution is because they’ve watched their mom work in the community.
What does the nomination mean to you?
It means people in the community are paying attention to the work, and they’re appreciating the work. It’s not so much Verna. I’m the conductor, but there is an army of community volunteers who are making this happen.
What makes Columbia such a great place to work and live in?
You can sit with a certain lens and see all the things wrong in this community, but I don’t wear that lens. I choose to walk alongside my community and facilitate healing. When I see issues, I address them with solutions to bring change. I came to the universe to make a positive difference in the lives of others.