Girl Getting Face Paint
credit: Ariana Gordon

The District of Columbia Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI), a nonprofit charged by the federal government with revitalizing the blighted Kenilworth/Parkside neighborhood in Ward 7, collaborated with the Paradise at Parkside apartments to host a health and wellness fair for neighbors at a local community center last month.

The mission of the event was to educate the community about healthy lifestyle changes to improve their health and well-being. Despite a rainy day, a steady stream of local residents attended the event at the Chauncy Spruell Community Center on the grounds of the Paradise apartments.

“I decided that rain or shine, we were going to make this happen, that rain was not going to stop us from doing this today,” said Tina Beeks, who co-organized the event and works with Paradise’s elderly residents at the Spruell Community Center.

Beeks said that she recovered from being seriously overweight for a long time: she weighed more than 400 pounds. She had a “sleeve” operation, surgery that permanently reduces a patient’s stomach to about 15 percent of its original size, to eliminate her obesity in 2011, and is now down to about 200 pounds, she said.

“This is where I live; I want to pass it on to my community for their benefit so they can be healthy,” Beeks said in an interview. She wants to be around for her grandchildren, too see them grow up.

Booths at the fair, which had to be brought inside because of the rain, emphasized health and well-being, exercise, job readiness and job-search skills.

A program called Early Stages, which is part of D.C. Public Schools, identifies young children who have developmental disabilities—aged from 2 years and 8 months up to 5 years and 10 months—and places them with service providers in DCPS depending on the therapy needed, according to field coordinator Brandy Maskell.

“If we can reach out and identify these children, we’re doing something right,” Maskell said during the fair.

DCPNI/Facebook

Capital Bikeshare, a program that has been in the District since 2010, offers cheap membership to ride their shared bicycles. Their $5 annual membership fee for low-income D.C. residents is cheaper and healthier than riding the bus or Metro. Bikeshare also offers free memberships to clients of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, said their spokesman.

A booth was manned by Impact DC, a clinic that offers education about how to cope with asthma attacks, of which local officials say there are a lot of victims in the Kenilworth/Parkside community.

Another booth offered flyers on several job-training programs offered by the D.C. government to residents, especially those in poor areas. The city wants to educate customers about what programs are available and help them fill out basic paperwork like job applications.

Chef Pat Peterson from Beefsteak, a D.C. restaurant near Dupont Circle, was offering fair–goers free smoothies mixed from cheap local fruits and vegetables and was demonstrating how to make them. Peterson encouraged residents to try to make the drinks themselves at home, of which several said in exit interviews that they are going to do.

“With stuff available in the area, here are things you can do with them,” Peterson said. “The hope is that the guy at Circle Mart can make some money selling his veggies.” He also noted that the Arcadia Center, a local nonprofit dedicated to sustainable agriculture, donates produce to underserved communities.

How did the host, Paradise apartments, receive this fair? Resident Programs Overseer Quinton Gordon said he was very pleased with what was happening and strongly wants to keep it going next year.

“This is something we should’ve been doing all along,” he said in an interview. “Our kids need to be accustomed to health services and providers.” He complained that there was too much emphasis on having fun for his liking. “People want to make this more about fun, but we emphasize wellness here.”

Gordon continued to praise the collaboration between DCPNI and Paradise at Parkside “This partnership has been so productive; it’s more than just fun. It’s a very, very good idea. It’s rare we can have this where it’s all families.” He noted that a lot of kids living in this neighborhood—cut off from the rest of the District by the Anacostia River—don’t get into the main part of D.C. and don’t see white people very often, if ever.

Beeks said that events such as this fair help the neighborhood pull together, which is necessary to fight continued violence in the city and raise everyone’s comfort level. “I put this together because I thought the community needed this.”

Residents leaving the fair seemed to have gained new skills. Beverly Denny, who lives in Paradise and is unemployed, said that not only did he learn how to make his own smoothies, he learned how to better deal with his persistent, often chronic, asthma attacks.

He planned to go home and make a vegetable smoothie. “I got a little more education about eating healthy-wise,” he said. “It’ll come out lumpy, but it depends on the blender.”  He learned how to blend potatoes and celery in the blender.

Denny also learned how to deal with his asthma.  He said he had three attacks in May, which is the most he’s ever had that close together. He has a nebulizer machine. Without using it, “I feel like a goldfish out of water.”

His nephew Brian Riddick, a Capitol Heights resident who rode to the fair with his uncle, learned how to make gazpacho by blending tomatoes. He also said that he came to the fair because he needs a job.

Tenisha Beeks, also a Paradise resident, came with three kids. She said she found the fair offerings beneficial. She especially enjoyed learning how to cook shea butter.

The lead organizer on DCPNI’s end, Sherrié Jones, taught residents how to make all-natural scented shea butter — which is supposed to be good for dealing with respiratory illness.

“I enjoyed being able to cook with things I didn’t know how to cook with before, like natural plants,” Beeks said outside the fair. “We can go home and cook with natural things.”