“Beacon of Hope” to Open

Health, Wellness are focus of Avondale Meadows Complex
By Barb Berggoetz Front page, August 5, 2013

For months, Alma Trawick has eagerly watched a facility take shape two blocks from her house, a wellness center that will help her and her neighbors get healthier and more fit.

But it may do much more.

Developers hope the Avondale Meadows Health and Wellness Center will become a national model for providing much-needed services to urban residents.

Trawick is excited to get her feet inside the airy Northeastside facility. She’s going to start exercising, find a new doctor and volunteer as a senior coordinator for the YMCA.

The $18.8 million center off East 38th Street houses the Avondale Meadows YMCA and the HealthNet Northeast Health Clinic. Its formal grand opening will be Sept. 9.

“I have done nothing but talk about it,” said Trawick, 64, a recent retiree and president of the Keystone Millersville Neighborhood Association. “I can’t wait until the doors open.”

The doors will open late this month — signaling another positive step in an ambitious urban renewal project steered by business and city leaders and patterned after a successful Atlanta redevelopment.

“We think the facility can be a beacon of hope in the neighborhood,” said Eric Ellsworth, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis. “It’s a great placement of a facility in the middle of a redevelopment effort.”

A national trend

The center is on the front end of a national trend of medically based health and wellness centers. They bring multiple services under one roof close to where people need them. Partnerships between the Y and health organizations exist in Indianapolis and other cities, but organizers point to this as an urban model.

The 68,000-square-foot facility, at 3908 Meadows Drive, is a linchpin in a 100-acre, $140 million redevelopment of the Avondale Meadows area — long a poor, blighted and high-crime area. Its home to the long-troubled, federally subsidized Keystone North Apartments, formerly the Phoenix Apartments, at 4006 Meadow Drive. In 2011, 369 crimes were reported to police there. Through October 2012, there were 284 crime reports.

A welcoming lobby

In stark contrast is the cheery, white and gray health center, with its bright yellow entrance surrounded by two-story windows. Residents will walk in the front door to a welcoming lobby and see two check-in areas — one for HealthNet, which is affiliated with IU Health, and one for the YMCA.

At HealthNet, people will be able to get pediatric care, women’s services and general primary care. People can learn about good nutrition, get cardiac rehabilitation and help to stop smoking, among other services.

“It’s a win for the patients … This has really been a community project. We asked people in the neighborhood what they want to see in a clinic.”

While waiting for doctors’ appointments, people can glance through strategically placed windows into the Y’s huge wellness center, where exercisers will be working out.

Down the hall, there will be Pilates, yoga, hip-hop and other fitness classes and a place to shoot hoops. Children can go to a preschool or day care there, too. The teen center will help students prepare for college and give them a place to listen to music, play games and use computers. Neighborhood groups will be able to meet there.

“Our goal is to curb diabetes and chronic heart disease,” said Ellsworth, “and make this overall a healthier environment for the people who live in the Meadows neighborhood.”

Neighborhood challenges

They face many health and other challenges.

The median income for people living in the Meadows — generally considered to be bordered by 38th Street, Fall Creek Boulevard, 46th Street and Sherman Drive — is $26,481, according to U.S. census data. That compares with $43,197 in Marion County. Unemployment is 22.7 percent, compared with 10.7 percent for the rest of the county. More than a quarter of the residents don’t have cars, and 30 percent of the households are headed by women, twice the rate in the county.

Thanks to a mix of federal and local aid, tax incentives and private development worth $60 million, the neighborhood already has been infused with three charter schools, the fully occupied, mixed-income East Village Apartments and improved infrastructure, such as sidewalks.

The new health and wellness center, surrounded by the three charter schools — Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School, Challenge Foundation Academy and the Goodwill Excel Academy — is the next big step.

The new health and wellness center, surrounded by the three charter schools — Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School, Challenge Foundation Academy and the Goodwill Excel Academy — is the next big step.

“Everybody I’ve talked to over here is looking forward to it. We need both of the services close by,” said Trawick. “I’ll be able to go to exercise classes and use the equipment. Whatever it is, I won’t have to burn gas to get to it.”

Diabetes and high blood pressure run in Trawick’s family. She hasn’t been a member of a fitness facility or YMCA since moving to the Meadows area in 1989. Her blood pressure is under control with medications. But she wants to exercise at least three times a week and learn about better nutrition now that she’s cooking more.

“I just want to stay healthy and be better fit,” she said.

Y helping Y

The YMCA, which will open Aug. 21, hopes to serve 5,000 people. The Y invested $1.3 million in the building. To keep the branch viable, Ellsworth said, financial help will come from the proposed CityWay YMCA.

That YMCA, a 75,000-square-foot facility to be built across from The Alexander hotel, should bring in enough money to help support the Avondale Meadows Y, he said.

The 34,000 square feet in the Avondale Meadows Y will include space and programs for toddlers to seniors. The Y’s 15-member Urban Mission staff, who offer mentoring, tutoring and physical fitness programs in schools, will be housed there.

Seeing is believing

Patients coming to the health clinic will be able to see people in the Y’s wellness center working out with cardio equipment, free weights and strength training machines in the 5,270-squarefoot wellness center.

Organizers think patients will grasp the link between good health and an active lifestyle and join the Y when they see people in action.

“If you’re healthy, the more wellness activities you participate in,” said Jimmy Brown, CEO and president of HealthNet, a network of primary health care centers serving inner-city neighborhoods. “There will be collaborative programs between the Y and HealthNet.

“It’s a win for the patients,” he said. “This has really been a community project. We asked people in the neighborhood what they want to see in a clinic.”

The 18,000-square-foot health clinic, opening Aug. 26, is one of HealthNet’s federally qualified health centers in Indianapolis. The centers primarily provide health care to people with little or no insurance. But anyone with insurance can receive care there, too. Initially, two doctors and a midwife, along with nurses and medical assistants, will staff the facility designed to treat up to 7,000 patients.

“The area is grossly underserved in terms of health care, physical activities and organized activities,” said Dan Evans, president and CEO of Indiana University Health, which contributed $5 million to support the HealthNet facility, including $1 million from its foundation.

“I think it’s going to bring in new people who currently can’t get to a doctor or fitness facility,” he said. “The intention is to help people help themselves get better.”

Forest Manor Health Center is the closest clinic on the far east side of the Meadows area, but it has a waiting list. Washington Park is the closest park, but people north of 38th Street have to cross that busy street to get there. The Ransburg YMCA southeast is the closest Y, but it is almost 8 miles away.

The clinic will be tracking indicators such as weight, lifestyle habits, including smoking and diet, and diabetes, among its patients.

‘More visibility’

Amandula Anderson, her husband and their blended family of five children will be among those taking advantage of the Y’s facilities. She admits to not being a consistent exerciser, but hopes to use the treadmill and take exercise classes.

Anderson will be spending even more time in the building. The offices of the United Northeast Community Development Corp., of which she is as executive director, are moving to the center.

“It’s going to give us more visibility in the neighborhood,” said Anderson, whose agency helps provide safe and affordable housing opportunities and encourages economic development initiatives in the area.

She’s also considering enrolling her youngest daughter in the licensed early learning center. Financially supported by the Lilly Endowment for three years, it has 45 slots for children and was highly sought after by residents asked to specify their needs.

“We’re probably excited about this early learning center as much as anything,” said Ellsworth, the YMCA president.

“This neighborhood has huge health challenges — obesity, education about wellness and health, poor nutrition,” said John Neighbours, an attorney with Faegere Baker & Daniels who is chairman of the Meadows Community Foundation. The nonprofit foundation owns 90 percent of a real estate company that was created to own and build the wellness center.

It won’t take that long to see whether the Avondale Meadows center is working, he said. “I think we’ll probably know in 24 months if we’re making a difference.”

The clinic will be tracking indicators such as weight, lifestyle habits, including smoking and diet, and diabetes, among its patients.

“If it works at the Meadows, we will publish about it and try to replicate it all over the country,” Evans said.

More on the way

While the center is a key component in the redevelopment, more is on the drawing board, including retail businesses and senior and mixed-income housing. Soon, Strategic Capital Partners, a real estate company formed by former Duke Realty Chief Financial Officer Gene Zink Jr. that is leading the Meadows redevelopment, will donate 6 acres to the Indianapolis Parks and Recreation Department for a park of walking and biking trails in front of East Village.

The next big linchpin is a long-awaited grocery store that’s proving difficult to attract without tax incentives.

“That’s been the hardest piece, not that any of this has been easy,” said Zink. “Literally, hundreds of community meetings and partners have made all this happen. We’ve got good momentum. The challenge is to make sure it keeps going in a quality way.”

Call Star reporter Barb Berggoetz at (317) 444-6294. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/barbberg.

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