Children's Wellness Center

What if inner city Latino children had a safe, affirming, and affordable place to play, learn and grow like their suburban counterparts?

Photo of Candida Flores
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

In 2010, I visited a Peruvian family at their home in a deteriorating building without heat. Ten people, including 6 children, lived inside the two-bedroom apartment. The children were not allowed outside due to gangs. The toddlers would vomit when crawling across the floor from poor diet and lack of space to move and play. An older toddler could not talk or pull herself up to the sofa. Parents were afraid to bring them to the park because of street fighting. Plus, the park was littered with needles and condoms, and the play equipment was rusty. I met with the Mayor, the Lt. Governor and State representatives to describe what was happening, and demanded something be done. Then, I urged staff to encourage parents to speak out. Parents organized a demonstration, and marched from our office to the capital. With our staff translating, they testified at public hearings, children in tow. Ultimately, federal dollars were earmarked to refurbish the park, and I made sure parents worked side by side with City architects to design it. The process took 3 years! Now, hundreds of families use the park each summer and the children I mentioned above are talking, reading and walking through our organization's programs. Moreover, their parents are part of an advisory board leading the Children's Wellness Center's development. Parents want year-round opportunities for their children, winter too. The CWC is situated right across the street from the park--an ideal location!

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Hispanic, Latinx, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)

If you chose to self-identify your race, ethnicity, or origin, please share here: (the answer will not be public)

Puerto Rican

Website

http://www.familylifeedu.org

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Connecticut

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Hartford

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Connecticut

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Hartford

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Childhood obesity has reached staggering levels, with physical, emotional and psychological consequences. A recent study found 37% of Hartford preschoolers are overweight or obese—twice the national standard. Latinos were disproportionately impacted. Parents considered unhealthy weight as “normal” and did not link it to future chronic disease. Crowded housing, absence of safe places to play and poor nutrition complicate these circumstances.

The Children's Wellness Center (CWC) will offer inner city Latino/a children (ages 0-12) the chance to develop the cognitive, socio-emotional and physiological foundation to become successful in school--and in life.  The CWC will contain three interlocking components:  obesity prevention; child development, and family nutrition.  It will also encourage self-awareness, cultural pride and self-efficacy.  Designed to embrace the "whole" child, the CWC will be a safe haven that affirms the struggles of families who have survived border crossings, violence, crime, racial/linguistic isolation, immigration raids, gang inflicted fear and neighborhood drug use/traffiking.  It will be a place where children feel anchored in themselves and are validated for their unique potential--and contributions.  

Staffed by bilingual/bicultural professionals, it will be a warm, welcoming environment that meets children where they are and encourages them to explore their identities.   It will provide stimulating educational activities for children and families, and educate parents about how children can best learn, grow and thrive.  It will offer training in developmental milestones, and strategies to encourage strong growth and development at home.  With a commercial kitchen, it will also offer family cooking classes for parents to learn how to use unfamiliar New England produce, education on coupon shopping, exercise classes, Yoga/Zumba, and play activities designed to foster language development, creative thinking, problem-solving and fine/gross motor development. Further, it will offer breastfeeding education and infant massage courses.  In addition, it will offer culturally sensitive, trauma-informed counseling, intervention and support for children and family members.  Direct linkages will be available to ESOL, GED, citizenship and computer-learning classes offered next door at Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford.  Families will enjoy bi-weekly distributions of fresh produce and whole grains from Foodshare, along with access to a mobile farmer's market with discounted prices.  

The Children's Wellness Center will enter into collaborative relationships with organizations already addressing different facets of child wellness such as Cooking Matters, My City Kitchen, University of Connecticut Agricultural Extension Program, Windowfarms Garden Project, Wheeler Clinic, PeaceJam, HartBeat Ensemble, Hartford Health Dept., Ct. Children's Medical Center and Knox Parks Foundation.  These entities will offer educational, mental health and arts programming in the facility so as to ensure lower costs and avoid duplication of services.  With its breadth of scope and diverse partners, the CWC promises to become a cost effective, easily replicable model for children’s wellness in disenfranchised urban communities across the nation. 

To be housed in 4,000 sq. feet on the ground floor of a recently renovated factory building, immediately underneath our administrative offices, the facility is easily accessible to public transportation and well known to community residents.  The space has abundant sunlight, with large windows for indoor gardening, as well as a multi-purpose room for celebrations and workshops.  Cigna has donated 10 brand new laptop computers for children's learning activities.  Internet and wi-fi connections are available.   The facility has two entrances, and full handicap accessibility. It is located in Parkville, Hartford's most ethnically diverse neighborhood, across the street from the above mentioned city park, with opportunity for year-round, linked programming.  A capital campaign of $250,000 is now underway to raise funds for space renovations.  Thus far, 64% has been committed.  


Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Child and Family Services
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education
  • Mental Health

Year Founded

1987

Project Stage

  • Idea (poised to launch)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Every day, families with young children come through our doors for assistance. While some are pregnant homeless girls who have lost hope, others are undocumented mothers trying to learn English so they can find work. In 2013, one such mother died in the tobacco fields because she chose to buy food for her toddlers instead of refilling her heart medication. The children, being raised by her sister-in-law, were traumatized, with language delays, angry outbursts and eating binges. With the help of our staff, they are now in speech therapy and engaged in affirming, trauma-informed early education and nutrition activities with Spanish-speaking staff whom they trust. Their aunt is taking ESOL, Cooking Matters and a parent leadership class.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Because the Children's Wellness Center is in the early stages, we do not have quantitative impact data. However, we are working with Ct. Children's Medical Center researchers to design effective assessment measures (ie, reduced sugar intake and "screen" time, increased opportunity for exercise, improved self-esteem, etc.) As illustrated above, ample qualitative data exist. We know that with proper supports and a culturally affirming approach, children can sustain healthier weights, eat better, and develop into curious, secure learners. When parents/extended family members are educated about healthy lifestyles, have access to nutritious foods, learn how validation nurtures confidence, and obtain coaching to develop self-efficacy skills, children can thrive. In 2013, parents successfully advocated to refurbish the adjacent park. Now, their aim is to realize the CWC across the street!

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $500k - $1m

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Our sustainability plan is threefold. With its commercial kitchen, parents can prepare delicious indigenous dishes for catered events like weddings, corporate lunches, conferences, etc. In addition, we can establish a "juice bar" for tenants in our own and nearby buildings. Also, the facility can be rented for birthday parties, teacher workshops, etc. Last, its unique approach will attract competitive grants for children's overall wellness.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

In 2012, a UCONN graduate student conducted a national assessment on what types of free, culturally competent wellness facilities existed for inner city children. What he found were free breakfast or lunch efforts at Head Start programs and schools, and nutrition/health education programs at community-based organizations. No comprehensive effort exists that promotes overall wellness, including cognitive development and psycho-emotional health, in urban children from culturally diverse backgrounds. Nor does any effort exist that is parent-driven, and ensures families have a voice.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Children's wellbeing requires attention to the whole child--body and mind. Further, it requires careful analysis of the family's current/past circumstances, like histories of violence, illness, flight or fear. Additionally, it requires better understanding of families' cultural and religious backgrounds, including the powerful role of elders. Fragmented approaches do not work; in conditions of poverty, they tend to place more strain on the family and the child. Newcomers to the US need special supports so as to become self-efficacious as they once were. Families need to learn their rights.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Changemakers.com
  • Email

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 66.7%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 33.3%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 0%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 33.3%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 66.7%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 0%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 0%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 0%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 33.3%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 66.7%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 33.3%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 66.7%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 0%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 0%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 0%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 50%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 100%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 0%

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Photo of Bev
Team

This would be so exciting if you were able to achieve all that you hope for.  If successful, I think it should be expanded across the nation.  Once the focus on the problems of Latino families has been addressed, there are other at-risk groups in our population that could benefit from this too.  I am worried about sustainability for this project, but the need is definitely there.  Good luck!

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