Charity Spotlight: One Organization, Many Services

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Posted By on May 7, 2020

Wesley Community & Health Centers serves the whole health of its community

THE STORY

For 70 years, Wesley Community & Health Centers has provided community programs, services, classes, and activities for families living in south-central Phoenix. For most of that time, its primary activities included adult English and citizenship activities such as amnesty programs because the community is primarily Hispanic. But after they added a gym in the 70’s, more programs became focused on children.

Healthcare became a bigger priority after 2002, when Centro de Salud health center began with volunteer physicians, primarily from Banner Good Samaritan Hospital. These services and clinics began by serving “uninsured only.” All patients paid $20 per visit, but that increased to $40 after the first year, because patients said the health center should “charge more” for its excellent services. With an unexpected Federal stimulus grant in 2009, this healthcare for “uninsured only” became a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) providing healthcare to underserved populations, regardless of their ability to pay.

Today, Wesley Health Center continues its primary FQHC healthcare services at its original site, at 1300 S. 10th St. as well as its newly expanded second healthcare site at the Golden Gate Community Center at 1625 N. 39th Ave.

THE CAUSE

Wesley Community & Health Centers isn’t just two community health clinics providing high-quality, affordable care to those who are primarily low income and uninsured or underinsured; it is two community centers as well.

“Wesley is the only FQHC with a community center in the state of Arizona. Wesley’s combination of primary healthcare services with community center programs and activities is a forward-thinking, innovative hybrid model to address the whole health of an individual, families and the community,” said Blaine Bandi, the CEO of Wesley Community & Health Centers. “There is no other nonprofit in Arizona that combines health care services with community programs and activities designed to improve community wellness.”

From after-school youth programs to classes in nutrition, financial literacy and adult education, Wesley works to provide opportunities for personal and social growth. “What makes Wesley’s after-school and summer programming unique is that it is extremely low-cost and high-quality,” Bandi said. During the school year, the rate is $10 per child per week. In the summer, it goes to $35 per child per week for structured programming such as STEM activities, one-on-one homework tutoring, nutrition education, community gardening, arts and crafts, daily physical activity and computer education.

Meanwhile, Wesley Health Centers offer an array of primary care services tailored to the needs of the community. “In our case, it’s a population that is primarily low-income, uninsured and Hispanic,” Bandi said. Seventy percent of Wesley’s patients are uninsured, compared to other area FQHCs that average only a 20 percent uninsured rate. As such, Wesley is a valuable safety-net healthcare provider that serves more than 7,000 patients a year between its two locations.

Wesley offers pregnancy, family planning and mental health services as well as health education and nutrition counseling. Licensed professionals do acute and chronic disease management, cancer screening, lab tests, vaccines — all in English and Spanish.

THE FUTURE

The community Wesley serves faces myriad social issues that affect their health. These include food insecurity, inadequate access to healthy and nutritious food, substandard housing and employment opportunities, under-resourced schools and the prevalence of crime and drugs, to name a few. What’s more, many families seek medical care only when they absolutely need it and often delay or forego care, which often leads to more invasive and costly treatments with poorer outcomes.

Fortunately, through its integrated approach, Wesley regularly sees the impact both its health center and community centers have on the community. Children from the after-school program return as adults to talk about how important it was to them and their growth and development. One such person was Henry Cejudo, who attended the after-school and summer programs when he was a child. “He credits it to keeping him off the streets, away from gangs and drugs and involved in school,” Bandi said.

Cejudo went on to become the youngest Olympic gold medalist for Greco-Roman Wrestling and then entered the Ultimate Fighting Championship and became champion. He recently returned to Wesley’s Golden Gate site to share his story and donate $5,000 to the after-school program. But he is not alone. “People in the community will regularly stop staff and share memories of the programs and services and the impact they have had on their life,” Bandi said.

As Arizona battles the coronavirus crisis, Wesley has shifted services to be there for the community. Prior to COVID-19, Wesley only had a small number of telehealth visits. Today, nearly 84 percent of health center visits are through telehealth. And though community center programming has been canceled, Wesley has transitioned to provide daycare for children of first responders and a food pick-up program for families struggling to afford food.

Food and nutrition are huge components of Wesley’s plans for the future. Because healthy foods are critical to reducing childhood obesity and diabetes, and because nutritious foods also help kids perform their best in school, Wesley has wanted to renovate the community kitchen at its Golden Gate site for years. A major grant from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust made that dream a reality, and Wesley is currently finishing construction of a commercially licenced kitchen that will allow them to prepare free nutritious meals and snacks in-house for kids attending after-school and summer programs.

“With the completion of the kitchen, Wesley will be able to take fresh vegetables grown right in our own community garden and prepare, cook and serve those vegetables to the children in the after-school and summer program. Children who plant seeds in the garden and watch them grow will be able to see how those vegetables are cooked and what they taste like,” Bandi said. The completion of the community kitchen will take Wesley programs and services to the next level.”

To learn more, go to wesleycenterphx.org.

Karen Werner

About Karen Werner

Karen Werner is the editor of Frontdoors Media. She is a writer, editor and media consultant. She has interned at The New Yorker, worked at Parents Magazine, edited five books and founded several local magazines. Her work has appeared in Sunset, Mental Floss and the Saturday Evening Post.