Heights Wellness Center offers free health, fitness and nutrition programs

With the start of a new year, people often make resolutions to get into shape, adopt a healthier diet, and take better care of themselves and their family. A good place for residents to start working toward their New Year’s resolutions is the City Heights Wellness Center, which provides an array of free fitness, nutrition, and health programs for people of all ages.

The center’s busy monthly calendar features the Standing Proud Martial Arts Class for kids; a Latin dance-inspired fitness program called Zumba for adults; lifestyle nutrition education geared toward chronic disease prevention; a nutrition/breastfeeding support group for mothers and their babies (in Spanish and English); monthly parenting workshops; and much more.

Each month the center picks a health theme and provides information and recipes to go with the theme. On Wednesday afternoons, a public health nurse is on-site to answer health questions. On Friday mornings, eligibility specialists are available to help residents apply for publicly-funded health insurance programs Medi-Cal and Healthy Families. The fourth Thursday of every month, health experts provide chair massage, acupuncture, and yoga as part of Integrative Health Night.

By appointment, children up to age 5 can get free developmental, speech, language, and behavioral screenings. Hearing and vision screenings are also available. If glasses are needed, they are provided free of charge.

The Scripps Mercy WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program has staff at the center to support low- income women who are pregnant, have recently given birth, or have children under age 5. WIC participants receive food vouchers, nutrition and breastfeeding support, health education, and referrals to prenatal and pediatric health care.

Lisa Vandervort, a registered dietitian who manages the center, is especially proud of its certified demonstration kitchen, which makes it possible to provide hands-on nutrition education and cooking classes. Vandervort describes the kitchen, created with seed money from the Price Family Charitable Fund, as the heart of the center because people naturally gravitate toward food.

“The Teaching Kitchen has become a community “hub” where residents come together with food and express their lives, needs and concerns in a safe and trusted environment,” she wrote.

The kitchen has been instrumental in the center’s success in engaging the East African community. Somali cooking classes have been held there, as well as cooking classes for children.

Located on Wightman Street near the public library, the Wellness Center  is the result of a partnership between Scripps Mercy Hospital and Rady Children’s Hospital. Scripps staff manages the 4,500-square-foot facility. The center first opened in 2002 and was founded specifically to address community needs. It recently renewed its lease for another five years.

In addition to offering its own programs, the center partners with numerous community organizations to bring in services. Its partners have included the International Rescue Community, San Diego Nutrition Network, San Diego County Obesity Initiative, City of San Diego Park and Recreation Department, the University of California Cooperative Nutrition Extension Program, and the San Diego Children’s Safe Kids Coalition.

The center also has developed strong alliances with agencies serving the community, such as the Horn of Africa, Catholic Charities, San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency, Family Health Centers of San Diego, neighborhood schools and law enforcement agencies.

Last year, about 18,000 residents took part in the center’s educational and social support activities in a variety of languages.

The City Heights Wellness Center is located at 4440 Wightman St., Suite 200, in the City Heights Urban Village. For information about its programs, call (619) 321-2920 or visit www.scripps.org/locations/well-being-centers__city-heights.

Helen Gao