D.C. Nonprofits Use Art to Teach Healthy Living

by: Brianna Rhodes Special to the AFRO
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HIV/AIDS awareness, infant mortality and drug and alcohol abuse programs are services provided by nonprofit organizations Access to Wholistic, Productive Living Institute and the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative at the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization in Northeast Washington, D.C.

The partnership provides community and public services to residents living east of the river by bringing health initiatives and the arts together. The partnership has been in effect since September.

Ralph Williams is the chief operating officer of Access to Holistic and Productive Living Institute Inc. at the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization Center. (Courtesy photo)

According to the District of Columbia Health Needs June 2016 Assessment, the percentage of families living below the poverty level in Wards 7 and 8 is about twice the citywide average and about 15 times higher than in Ward 3. Recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau state that 40 percent of the children in Ward 7 live in poverty.

The organizations said they came together for the opportunity to collaborate and expand their resources to the community. Ralph Williams, chief operating officer of Access to Holistic and Productive Living Institute based in Brentwood, Md., said the timing of the collaboration was perfect since the non-profit is coming up on its 10th anniversary and has done little work in D.C. over the years.

“We’re a community non-profit, but we work with community health and public health alleviations and disparities throughout the United States,” Williams told the {AFRO}. But, our concentration is in Prince George’s County and the state of Maryland, as a whole.”

Williams said their organization has the capability to expand. “We’re actually starting to find out that a lot of the work that we have done and do now kind of is right along that border of the District of Columbia, particularly in Ward 7,” Williams said.

Board member of the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative, Irwin Royster, said that their non-profit, which has been in the area for nearly 15 years, is always looking for opportunities to expand and collaborate with other organizations particularly non-arts organizations to expose art to people in the area.

“There is a link between art and health,” Royster told the {AFRO}. “Sometimes people don’t see that so we thought it’d be a great idea to join forces and also it would give them [Access to Wholistic and Productive Living Institute Inc] access to the Ward 7 community and the District of Columbia community.”

The collaboration was chosen in the area because of the economic and health gaps. “As much as the district is seeing economic growth, there’s still a lot of holes and pockets of economic and health disparities within those two wards for various reasons,” said Williams. “There are a lot of food deserts particularly in Ward 8 and we know unfortunately that they’re beginning to have health desserts as well in both wards.”

Royster said they’re going to incorporate art to educate residents of Ward 7 about the resources they need to improve their health.

At the center, both entities are working together on HIV awareness and use art to educate the youth. “They [youth] are really not concerned about health or wellness at their age because they’re so vibrant,” Royster said.  “What they are interested in are artistic outlets. So, if we can use those artistic outlets and use it as a conversion or use it as a means to educate about their health, well that’ll make them interested.”

Williams said there are also plans to expand their services for drug free initiatives and other health disparities that exist, particularly cancer amongst women in the area as well.

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