August 5, 2020

Exploring How Wellness Centers Can Best Help Communities Thrive with Uncommon Schools


Great news, we’re creating a wellness center. What resources should it provide to best help its community? What services and opportunities will make this wellness center as relevant and valuable as possible?

These were the central questions members of our Blue Cottage Women’s Forum posed to a dynamic group of high school students from Uncommon Schools (the largest public charter school network in the northeast) last month. The questions were part of a 10-day virtual exercise and a launch point to teach the students about careers in consulting.

The two-week virtual exercise began with our Women’s Forum team presenting about our team and consulting as a career path. Through this introduction, the students were asked to develop ideas for a flagship “All Well” clinic that offers services and products deeply oriented to a specific community’s needs—in this case, Newark, NJ. Two weeks later, the students were presenting back to our team on a range of possibilities encompassing physical, mental, and social wellness for the community.

The students met multiple times to develop their ideas. For each idea, they needed to highlight resources needed, proposed activities, and what it would take to begin. I’ve summarized their key takeaways below. It was a fantastic experience and I wanted to share the interesting ideas they proposed, including:

COOKING CLASSES: The students identified cooking classes as an important offering for their community. These classes could inspire good nutrition, help people connect, and reduce stress.

They felt the proposed clinic could start offering virtual classes now during the pandemic and then move to in-person classes later. Ultimately, the clinic could host cooking class retreats, parties, challenges, and also prepare food for community members. It would take hiring a great cooking instructor, kitchen space and cooking items, technology, recipes, and awareness for this initiative to begin.

FITNESS CLASSES: Knowing regular physical activity is key to overall wellness, one team proposed investing in new fitness programs. Initial focus areas could be dance, kickboxing, SMART fitness games, and even offering a bicycle library with lessons on how to ride them. 

For these services to thrive, students recognized the need for strong instructors, volunteers, equipment (bags for kickboxing), technology, and promotion and advertising to ensure high participation. As with the cooking classes, the team felt some of this could begin virtually now and then flourish with in-person events after the pandemic.

BASKETBALL COURTS: Recognizing an abundance of basketball courts in Newark, one team proposed renewed investment in basketball. They felt it would help revitalize these spaces, encourage physical wellness, and forge important social connections.

The team proposed revitalizing several of the city’s courts, opening them all up to the public, and building specific schedules for tournaments and teams. Beyond investment in certain court spaces, this initiative required very few resources beyond basketballs, coordination of team schedules, and referees.

COUNSELING: Expanding counseling services emerged as one of the strongest mental health initiatives from the group. The students felt if the All Well clinic could offer one-on-one and group counseling, in-person relaxing events where people can open up, and even virtual therapy sessions, it could have a significant positive impact on the community’s overall mental health.

The biggest need for this effort is trained therapists. Beyond that, the expanded counseling would require comforting physical spaces, secure file storage for patient records, scheduling help for in-person and online sessions, and things like free coffee, snacks, pleasant lighting and artwork, etc. to help people feel comfortable.

GAMES: The students saw games as an important means to bringing people together in the community. They felt offering diverse types of games from puzzles and chess to XBOX or musical chairs could also engage different generations in Newark. 

To help community members feel comfortable taking part, the group proposed classes on how to play different games along with tournaments and scheduled competitions. The investment to begin this initiative is purely in providing the games and technology for video games.

It was a truly inspiring experience to hear these students so articulately share insight and possibilities for their community. They were a dynamic group and our team took just as much from the experience as the students. While it would have been great to connect in person, the students’ passion and energy resonated virtually. Hopefully, the ideas surfaced inspire them to take action to promote wellness in their community moving forward.

A huge thank you to the other members of the Blue Cottage Women’s Forum who took part in this event with Uncommon Schools including Kimberly Silver, Rheena Luchansky, Julie Dumser, Molly Bazzani, Jarntip Lutz, Anna Johnson, Brandy Houston, Heather Rosen and Swapna Sathyan. It was a team effort and the kind of experience that leaves you inspired and proud.