Wellness Center

UrbanPromise launched the Wellness Center to address health concerns associated with growing up in concentrated urban poverty. A joint venture with First Presbyterian Church, Haddonfield, the Center’s mission is to reduce the impact of toxic stress on our community, thus providing the opportunity for optimal well-being of body, mind and spirit. The Wellness Center trains UrbanPromise staff to recognize signs of trauma; offers counseling to youth, families and staff; promotes healthy habits and provides unique education programs encouraging creativity and wellbeing.

The Wellness Center reduces the impact of toxic stress on our youth and our community through a trauma-informed staff approach. Staff training for 2014-15 is focused on promoting resilience in our youth – which is the ability to get through difficult times and come out the other side healthy and whole – helping kids identify and build on their strengths.

Children and teens that experience toxic stress have difficulty focusing and controlling their behavior. To address this, the practice of mindfulness is being piloted in 67% of our classrooms. In addition weekly yoga classes are offered to our youth at after school programs and schools, empowering youth to become more confident about and connected to their bodies.

Healthy lifestyles include a healthy relationship with food. A farm to school approach allows youth to grow, harvest and cook meals using the garden and Spirit Building kitchen. November 2014 saw the opening of our Community Food Co-op, bringing healthy food to an area of Camden known as a ‘food desert’.

Tackling Toxic Stress

Camden youth face the challenge of navigating "toxic stress."

Health education hasn’t been the same at UrbanPromise Academy this year, thanks to the addition of our Wellness Center. Rebecca Bryan—or Miss Becky, as the students call her—does more than just teach about the basic food groups, importance of exercise, and good hygiene. She applies each theme to students’ lives and the environment in which they live—the city of Camden, NJ.

This past fall, Becky and her sophomores began studying mental and emotional health and how it is impacted by “toxic stress”—a high level of stress occurring when an individual experiences intense, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity or trauma. Becky expected the students’ levels to be high. But when the class took a stress test, even she was shocked by the results.

Any score over 200 indicated a stress level that required immediate and intentional intervention. In the class of just 10 students, the majority scored between 600 and 900, with two teens scoring over 1,000. As Becky anticipated, these levels largely resulted from the loss of a parent—either to jail or death—moving frequently, and experiencing violence or abuse.

While the stress of these youth is certainly cause for concern, the good news is that Becky and a few volunteers are already taking action to combat it. They have started a support group for teens who have experienced major life loss and plan to begin a trauma therapy group later this year. Such resources would not be as easily accessible to our youth if not for this Wellness Center.

From Our Blog...

CAMDEN - Tomatoes, broccoli, and peppers are flourishing this summer in the garden outside the UrbanPromise Wellness Center. But the most important crop may be peace of mind. "When you spend time in the garden, you're not thinking of anything else," says Rebecca Bryan, director of wellness programs at the faith-based nonprofit in East Camden. As she and...