An Integrated Approach to Health and Wellness in an Underserved African-American Community-A Design Project Focused on Community Engagement Open Access
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Abstract of ThesisAn Integrated Approach to Health and Wellness in an Underserved African-AmericanCommunity – A Design Project Focused on Community Engagement Frederick Douglass stated that “it is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.” However, in the same way that adaptive reuse shows us how to adapt a building for new purposes while preserving its historic features, so can a broken man be repaired – repaired with a new purpose and preserved spirit. Despite a half-century of historic strides in expanding affordable, high quality, and comprehensive primary care to medically underserved populations, far too many residents in low-income communities are broken, challenged by a health care delivery system that is grievously deficient. Although the numerous support services provided by community health centers are instrumental in improving quality of life, the current delivery system is not aligned with the total needs of the community. The number of individuals that are overweight or obese is at epidemic proportions in this community, leading to health conditions that increase the possibility of stroke, heart attack, and subsequent death. And poor nutrition and lack of exercise are unequivocally major contributing factors in the obesity crisis. Therefore, a collaborative approach to health care that incorporates nutrition and fitness as integral components of the delivery system can redirect the downward spiral of our nation’s health. The focus of this comprehensive delivery system is the promotion of wellness that leads to healing. According to Barbara Huelat, “healthcare delivery [has shifted] from the state of sickness to the state of wellness, and thus, from the mode of curing to healing.” And the individual (patient) plays a major role in the healing process. Abalanced lifestyle of mind, body, and spirit is instrumental. According to Huelat, sending “ill or broken bodies to an institution or physician for cure is no longer the norm.” The model for good health includes personal responsibility. A comprehensive delivery system is not only there to support the physical need of the patient but to provide an environment that facilitates the healing of the mind, body, and spirit. For the broken members in our underserved communities, now is an unprecedented opportunity to help them transform their minds and bodies and reconnect with their inherently strong spirits. The objective and scope of this thesis project is to create a space that integrates health care, nutrition services, and physical fitness/activity within the community. A symbiotic approach offered in a safe, reliable, and accessible environment will encourage use by community residents. Moreover, the space will serve as a location where residents can receive individual, as well as group, health, nutrition, and physical fitness education, thereby increasing awareness and ownership of health status, issues, and courses of action. The space will include a demonstration kitchen and provide individual and group cooking classes with a focus on shopping for, preparing for, and cooking healthy meals. The exterior space will serve as the site of a daily farmers market, providing fresh and healthy produce for community residents. The project will be designed with spaces, varying in size and type, for individual, small group, and community discussions. Providing such spaces will help establish and nourish social interaction and community engagement. Current research indicates that there is a dearth of facilities that integrate nutrition, fitness, and healthcare into one comprehensive program, especially in low-income communities. It is anticipated that the results of the research will demonstrate that a uniquely unified delivery system, executed in a collaborative and supportive environment, will optimize the opportunity for health and wellness for this underserved community. As a result, there can be a shift from a broken health and wellness culture to a restored one that is value-based and premised on prevention. It is expected that this thesis project will present a viable design solution to help address our current health care crisis in America. An environment that facilitates bringing the community together for a common health and wellness goal will explicitly improve the quality of life for the residents, community, and beyond. According to Charles Bloszies, “most old buildings are truly irreplaceable” and, therefore, retain a “special, endangered status.” This status, in part, fuels adaptive reuse. Residents of underserved communities are truly irreplaceable. Like buildings, they occupy the present but are a profound representation of our country’s past.