By Beth Treffeisen
Upstairs on the second floor of the South End Community Center on Washington Street, two staff members leading the Weight Initiative Now, a weight management program for kids, greeted guests with hand-made fruity drinks and helpful pamphlets.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about juice,” said Erin O’Dwyer, one of the staffers holding up a bottle filled a quarter of the way with sugar. “It looks like it is healthy because there is fruit on the label but that is not case.”
She added, there are also serving sizes that don’t include the entire drink that can be misleading and misconceptions of tap water that lead many people away. As her colleague, Emily Derecktor, mixed together in the fresh fruit and tap water, she said, “It’s a great alternative.”
The non-profit South End Community Center has been caring for the community since 1969 providing access to affordable health care. The center has a $16 million annual budget; over 200 employees, 17,000 patients, and 77,000 patients visit last year.
In an effort to continue to reach out to the surrounding community and expand their services more they held a National Health Center Week to attract those who have not heard of the center to come in.
“We are in the middle of a growth spurt,” said Karen Van Unen the chief operating officer at the community center. “We are doing a hiring spree to be able to accommodate even more people.”
One initiative was to place bowls of fruit out for patients to grab a healthy snack to and from their appointments.
“I love the little kids walking up and saying banana, banana, orange and they actually want to eat it,” said Unen. “We are striving to work towards having the fruit out all year long.”
The fruit Unen said was brought to center from Fresh Truck, that is a refurbished school bus that brings fresh produce to local communities on a discounted price. Each Friday they park in front of the health center from 3 to 6pm. Five dollar coupons were handed out all day for patients to take part.
“A little over a 100 participants each Friday go out to the truck,” said Unen.
Other health week initiatives included an ask the expert series where guests could come in and ask questions about topics including dental, eye care, women’s health, pediatrics and nutrition.
This allowed for demonstrations such as how to read food labels and allowed for doctors to engage patients and help them sign up for services provided by the health center.
They also provided HIV, Hep C, and STD screening.
“It was OK with attendance,” said Unen who said they had planned to have people outside to get people in but the rain last Wednesday deferred that. “We learned out to do it better next time.”
The health center provides services in primary care, dental and oral health, eye care, and specialty services such as asthma, geriatrics, and LGBTQ care. They also have urgent care for children and adults along with support services such as family planning.
Unlike other health centers Unen said they have integrated behavioral health services that helps patients throughout all the departments.
The health week Unen said was a good launching point for them to start to get the word out about their local center that serves as a ‘one-stop-shop’ with compressive services that is more personal than having to go to a hospital.
“We want all of the South End to realize it’s here within walking distance from where they live,” said Unen. “We’re a gem in the South End but not that visible externally.”