Community centers are most effective when they tailor programming to their location, said Maureen Nuemann of NRPA. “We’re seeing these community wellness hubs as unique to the needs of individual communities.” Hubs like the Boston Centers for Youth and Families are good examples of location-based programming that offer enrichment opportunities from adult learning to computer access to theater programs.
According to Neumann, some of the benefits of community programming can be brought home: “We’re seeing, a lot of times, kids taking part in these programs being part of a nutritional literacy curriculum and taking that back to their families, sharing what they’ve learned and really creating an intergenerational approach to well-being.”
Community centers provide a source of information that’s easy to access, and they are working to make community health resources just as accessible, said Maureen Neumann from NRPA. “We’re seeing ‘Walk with a Doc’ programs where you can meet up with a local healthcare provider, take a walk, ask your questions, and have it really just be an informal, conversational way to approach medical scenarios,” she said.
By becoming a “wellness hub,” the community center is expanding in the space between individuals and care providers. “There’s a growing movement for doctors’ offices to engage in what’s called ‘social prescribing,’” Glover said. “The medical world is coming to appreciate that. A solution to some health problems is for people to connect with others in positive ways, so you’re finding doctors’ offices now saying, ‘Oh, you should sign up for a program at your local community center.’”
The impact of this is a combination of information and interaction, Neumann said: “So you show up in person to get ‘X benefit,’ and you end up getting ‘W, X, Y, Z.’”
Looking ahead, Glover sees community centers expanding their contributions to whole health. “I think that we need to value these places as being incredibly important to advancing people’s health and well-being,” he said.
Neumann agrees. Looking into the future, she wants to see the community center movement reach even more people: “They’re comfortable going to these centers for connections and resources, and they’re really seen as a vital part of community health,” she said. “They’re respected by the healthcare system, local government, and community members. They can also be really vital parts of the public health system.”