Guest Spotlight: Trenton Health Team Hosts ‘Show-and-Tell’ on Diabetes Education

Guest Spotlight: Trenton Health Team Hosts ‘Show-and-Tell’ on Diabetes Education

By Michelle Ruess, Trenton Health Team

The Project Dulce training session began like other meetings hosted by Trenton Health Team (THT) — a knowledgeable moderator addressing interested individuals seated at long conference tables. Then out came the dusting mitts. And the curlers. And a streamer of sugar packets stretching across the room.

This was no ordinary diabetes education lecture; this was show and tell.

Project Dulce, a program of the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute, uses a curriculum called “Diabetes Among Friends” featuring practical advice and real-life examples to train peer educators to share understandable diabetes care and education that still meets American Diabetes Association standards.

The dust mitt with its yarn tentacles illustrated a healthy pancreas; turned inside out it represented a diseased pancreas that cannot provide insulin. The hair curler stuffed with paper showed how plaque clogs arteries. The string of 33 sugar packets is the amount of sweetener in a two-liter bottle of soda. 

“It wasn’t just talk,” said Cheryl Towns, RN., B.S.N., THT Nurse Care Manager. “It was ‘let me show you’.”

Which is exactly why Ernie Morganstern, THT Senior Director of Population Health, invited Project Dulce to Trenton. Thirteen percent of adults in Trenton have diabetes, exceeding both the national rate of 10.8% (2016), and the New Jersey rate of 11% (2018). Diabetes is the eighth leading cause of death in New Jersey, with nearly 2,000 deaths per year.

“One of the things we wanted was an appropriate literacy level, literacy not just in reading and understanding, but also a health literacy level–meaning the ability to deliver this program to 15 different people in the same room at different health literacy levels and bring them along together,” Morganstern said. “It’s always good to have extra mentors in the community.”

Over the last year THT connected with staff from another Bridging the Gap site, Alameda County Public Health Department, to learn about their experience implementing Project Dulce in two local clinics. Project Dulce seemed to provide a model that could help THT respond directly to some of the diabetes care resources that community residents requested and provide an option for a model that could be sustained over time. Project Dulce provided a different approach to self-management support, with its focus on collaborative, interactive sessions and opportunities to mobilize the assets present in local communities, specifically by identifying community residents to train and lead sessions as peer educators.

With support from The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, THT hosted a three-day Project Dulce training for volunteers and staff from Cristo Rey, a Hispanic faith community in Trenton, and French Towers, our city’s senior housing high-rise. Three mentors from these sites and partners from Medina Health Clinic were joined by members of THT’s care management team.

Each THT care management team member will be hosting at least two neighborhood diabetes education programs each year, incorporating the practical advice and down-to-earth strategies for explaining complex medical issues.

“They taught us how to meet people where they are–and help them understand the importance of diabetes and manage so a lay person can understand it and manage it,” Towns noted. “Otherwise, (clients) nod to be polite and then walk away, and think ‘What did she say’?”

Local peer mentors are credible messengers for diabetes education, Morganstern said. They  face many of the same challenges–often transportation and access to healthy foods–as their clients, so they can provide practical and relevant solutions, such as making healthy food choices while still shopping locally and within a tight budget.

“Our goal is that everyone in Trenton who has diabetes or cares for someone with diabetes has access to a program with mentors, right  in their neighborhood, to provide what they need to effectively manage their disease,” Morganstern said. “Is there a cure for diabetes? No but with effective behavior modification and good medical care, you can live longer without complications.”

Trenton Health Team is an innovative, multi-sector partnership dedicated to the health and well-being of the greater Trenton community. For more information, visit

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