Making Connections in the Community
A Brigham-run wellness center has become a platform for health education and community empowerment.
Tucked away off Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester, Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center has been a community institution for more than 60 years. Sportsmen’s was the first indoor, nonprofit tennis club built by and for the African American community. Its founders envisioned a place where anyone in the neighborhood, youth especially, could benefit from the physical and social nature of the sport.
Blue Hill Avenue is one of Boston’s main thoroughfares. Sportsmen’s is located next to Harambee Park, one of precious few recreation spaces along the four-lane corridor. Though Boston boasts dozens of premier hospitals and clinics, residents in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan face disproportionate rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.
Research shows that preventive interventions and education work best where patients live, work, and play. That’s why Sportsmen’s executive director, Toni Wiley, and Brigham cardiologist Paul Ridker, MD, MPH, teamed up to establish the Center for Community Wellness (CCW) at Sportsmen’s, a Brigham-run wellness and prevention education center.
“CCW is an amazing platform for health education and empowerment work in a non-clinical environment,” says Rich Joseph, MD, MBA, the CCW’s medical director and a physician in the Brigham’s Clinical Weight Management Program.
“The topics we discuss in the center—COVID-19, chronic disease prevention, food insecurity—are giant issues that one organization isn’t going to solve,” says Joseph, who began his work at Sportsmen’s as a Brigham resident. “So, how do we collaborate better to tackle these large systemic issues more broadly in the community? How do we help deliver resources and impact and make sure the work is directed by the community as much as possible?”
Throughout the pandemic, Sportsmen’s has hosted vaccine clinics and wellness conversations with Brigham physicians so community members could voice their concerns, ask questions, and find tools for themselves and their families.
“It’s been wonderful to have Brigham residents come talk with us about different health topics over the past year, especially COVID-19,” says Mandy Bass, RN, MS, Sportsmen’s staff nurse and health and wellness advisor. “Our members here have been very engaged and had some of the most thoughtful questions. These conversations have reinforced that healthcare professionals are here for them, and not the other way around.”
“These are the kinds of connections we’re making between Sportsmen’s, a trusted and long-standing community organization, and a major academic medical center like the Brigham,” Joseph says. “I’m a big believer that these kinds of connections are critical to building the community health ecosystem of the future.”