Now that spring has finally sprung, the Chester Housing Authority (CHA) is encouraging residents to think more about health and fitness. CHA Executive Director Steven A. Fischer wants to bring back the agency’s successful Anume (A New Me) program and has started searching for businesses that will support the program. Two have already agreed to support.
Funding for the two-year pilot program ran out last September but not before the program showed its value in helping people change their fitness habits. More than 400 CHA residents visited community centers to address their health needs. Residents participated in Zumba, kickboxing, yoga and group walks. A large number of residents took part in a health survey conducted by April Young, Ph.D.
“We talked with a lot of people over the course of three days,” said Young. “CHA residents are concerned about their health and talked about what’s important to them.”
CHA was the only housing authority in the nation to receive a federal grant to implement the pilot program. It costs about $100,000 per year to operate the program and already Keystone First and Susquehanna Bank have donated a combined $25,000 to get the spring segment started.
“I am a firm believer that if people pay closer attention to their personal health, they’ll wind up feeling better about themselves and they will approach all the other challenges in their lives with a clearer thought process,” Fischer said. “The families we deal with have financial, social and educational challenges. If you’re keeping your weight down a little more and eating better, it gives you a mental advantage over everything else that’s going on in your life.”
Residents Tara Fontaine and Deborah Montgomery have been involved with the CHA health project from the very beginning. They were part of a group that spent time developing the Bennett Community Garden, exercising in small groups and hosting healthy food workshops.
“When we first got started, only a few people would come out to see what we were doing,” said Fontaine. “But later, we started seeing a lot of new people every time we did an event. It was amazing.”
“We have a lot of very talented and smart residents,” Montgomery said. “All we needed was a solid plan and some consistency. When people saw that we were committed to being healthy, they joined us.”
“I think people should be glad to hear that a housing organization thought a little outside the box and figured out a way of helping people perhaps move out of public housing sooner than they otherwise might,” Fischer said. “If you talk to those individuals, you’ll hear some of them say things like, ‘I’m accomplishing more in a lot of areas of my life because I’m paying better attention to my body and my health.’”
As for potential funding for the program, CHA has proposals into foundations, private businesses, and health insurance companies.
CHA is Chester’s largest affordable housing provider that administers and manages approximately 2,400 units; about 20 percent of the city’s rental homes.