Friends and local neighborhood residents fought successfully against discouraging weather conditions Saturday April 21st at the 15th Ave. Church of Christ for the second annual Meharry-Vanderbilt Student Alliance-sponsored Buena Vista Community Health Fair.
“A lot of work went into today,” said Blake Wilson, a third-year Meharry medical student who helped develop the fair and its activities. “It really gives the community a chance to come out and get to know each other, because it’s not only a health fair; it’s also a community day. It gives the community the opportunity to have various health screenings done that they might not normally have.”
The day’s activities began at 11 a.m. Visitors rotated through information and service stations where they had their blood pressure and blood glucose (sugar) levels checked and received dental and eye exams and bone density screenings. Private HIV testing was also provided.
Lisa M. Taylor, a graduate student from Vanderbilt School of Nursing, helped to organize volunteers from the school to take participants’ blood pressure.
Vanderbilt nursing student Sarah Lauderdale was one volunteer, and she explained that most people are surprised to hear their actual blood pressure numbers.
“They tend to always be a little higher than what they think,” she said.
“If we can reach one person, then it was worth it,” Taylor added.
At noon, Chef David Owens demonstrated how easy and cost-effective preparing healthy meals can be, offering tips on what types of fruits and vegetables to buy and how to get the most use out of them. Attendees were provided a free salad buffet that included a fresh broccoli pasta salad that Chef Owens explained how to recreate at home.
“The cooking demonstration was really informative,” Wilson said. “I think that it’s really important so that people know they can eat healthy on a limited budget.”
Rosemary Aiden lives directly across the street from the church, and she was one of the first that braved the weather as soon as the fair began.
“I happened to get up early this Saturday; usually I’d be asleep,” she joked. “I was excited. I got on up this time and came on over here.”
Aiden took full advantage of nearly all of the stations provided by the student volunteers, and being a diabetic who has recently lowered her blood sugar, she said that she learned a lot about “what to eat and what not to eat when you have diabetes.”
In addition to taking home more reading materials, she said the food demonstration helped her understand what to buy at the grocery store and would help her save money.
“I had a good time today; I really did,” she said. “I just enjoyed everybody’s company, and I just enjoyed being around people today.”
And as the day went on, there were plenty of activities for people to enjoy in the music-filled parking lot. Parents, children and volunteers kept themselves busy with Hula-Hoops, sidewalk chalk, face paint, jump rope and children’s bikes donated by local shop-owner Rashid Al-Qadir. An inflatable basketball goal entertained others behind the church.
People of all ages benefited from a raffle drawing at 1 p.m., and four kids got to take home the bikes they had been riding all afternoon. For the adults, gas and food gift cards were also up for grabs, which for some were a life saver.
Married couple Roger and Michelle* live in the neighborhood and occasionally visit the 15th Ave. Church of Christ.
“One of the young ladies stopped out and gave us the flyers for the health fair,” Roger said.
“We won two food cards for Save-A-Lot, which came at a perfect time,” Michelle added. She explained that the couple recently discovered they would be inheriting their grandchildren. “They’ll be here probably later tonight or first thing in the morning, and I said, ‘What am I going to feed them?’ So it worked great; wonderful, actually.”
Many guests agreed that this year’s fair was well balanced with useful information for adults as well as fun and engaging activities and prizes for the children. After the fair, Vanderbilt student Johan Westenburg helped organize a group bike ride for all ages to the C.E. McGruder Family Resource Center, where participants joined the efforts of the site’s Earth Day project.
Westenburg is a student in the Graduate Program of Economic Development, and he said he wishes to see more opportunities for children to get involved in their communities, particularly those with a lack of role models.
“It’s important to build and maintain relationships with kids to give them opportunities to succeed,” he said. The graduating senior passionately explained how community engagement projects can help children and students of all ages build experience and make connections for something as basic as a letter of recommendation.
“It’s little things like that, that just stacks the deck,” he said.
Incoming Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance Executive Director Dr. Consuelo H. Wilkins agreed that programs should continue to be extended into the community.
“We are in an excellent position to partner with the communities that we are a part of,” she explained. “Moving forward, one of the Alliance’s key goals is to be a resource for health education and to build long-lasting relationships with our neighbors. Together we will have a healthier community. This health fair is a great example of that partnership.”
The day was a great success, and the MVSA is already looking forward and developing ideas for next year’s event.