Columbia and Harlem Wellness Centers Form Partnership Creating Community Spaces around Wellness

Nohemy Aguirre
June 07, 2019

Columbia University’s Wellness Center serves as a hub for members of the community to take advantage of free point-of-care services like blood pressure and cholesterol screenings. Other services include an open referral system, as well as assistance in health insurance enrollment with the New York State of Health marketplace by certified application counselors. The Columbia Wellness Center is focused on becoming a community space where individuals from West Harlem and beyond can create and engage in positive experiences surrounding the topic of health and wellness.

To support this effort, the Columbia Wellness Center sought to develop partnerships and, in Fall 2018, Center staff met with Vivian Williams-Kurutz, the founder and executive director of the Harlem Wellness Center and a Columbia Community Scholar. Around that same time, Williams-Kurutz spoke at the Columbia University’s Community Scholars Dialogue on health and wellness, where she gave an empowering presentation on the health disparities African American women face in today’s society. Williams-Kurutz is known for her creative approach toward community organizing and her enormous zeal toward facilitating public engagement in the Harlem wellness community. Shortly after the meeting, a partnership was formed that was beneficial to both organizations and, more importantly, to the West Harlem community.

The first collaboration was a free community chair exercise workshop, piggybacking off the Education Lab’s Saturday Science theme, “Let’s Move It,” in December 2018. The goal was to design a recreational program that was suitable for all ages and focused on disseminating wellness information in an organic and effortless fashion. Williams-Kurutz, with a long history of yoga instruction, led five 20-minute chair exercise classes, where she guided more than 60 participants through a series of movements promoting strength, flexibility, and vitality.

Working off the success of the first event, and following a similar collaboration, Columbia University’s Wellness Center hosted another complimentary wellness workshop for community residents to attend in March 2019. This time the workshop was led by Harlem Wellness Center’s Zumba instructors, Mary and Marlene, who were successful in engaging everyone’s participation. More than 55 visitors participated in five 20-minute Zumba sessions.

The Columbia Wellness Center and Harlem Wellness Center look forward to increasing opportunities for programming in the future. The partnership that has bloomed attests to the African proverb that goes, “Alone you can go fast, but together you can go far.”

This article was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of The Columbia Newsletter, which is available for download.