MMA Innovation Award winner, From The Beacon, February 2016

Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria was alarmed when he discovered that more than 40 percent of Everett’s children are obese or overweight — one of the highest rates in Massachusetts. That number rises to almost half when including at-risk children. Meanwhile, the city’s per capita income is just 42 percent of the statewide average.

DeMaria’s idea to address both issues is the Everett Community Health and Wellness Center. With family memberships for just $15 a month, the center offers strength training, free weight and cardiovascular exercise equipment, and a basketball court and running track.

“He is prioritizing health as really a community issue in general,” said J. Catherine Rollins, the city’s director of policy. “I think he saw the wellness center as something entire families can do together — reaching adults, reaching the kids. And sometimes the involvement of the kids would bring the parents in.”

Everett placed the center in a former high school that is almost the exact geographic center of the city, Rollins said — crucial for a 3.7-square-mile community where the only public transportation is provided by buses, which mainly run up and down Broadway but not necessarily across town. The location also dovetails with another wellness focus for DeMaria: making Everett more walkable and bikeable.

The health center is open weekdays from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. and weekends from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. It offers classes for people of all ages and fitness levels, starting with toddlers as young as age 2. Classes include boxing, yoga, Zumba, circuit training and more. Members can access nutritional counseling, fitness assessments and educational seminars, and they can track their activity and progress through an online account.

A “Kids Corner” keeps children from age 1 to 14 busy, giving parents and guardians a chance to work out. The center also offers “kids-only” hours to encourage children and teenagers to try exercise equipment and get in the habit of exercising.

The vision was to create a place where entire families and all ages can get physical exercise, Rollins said.

“You see different age groups there at different times and the center is pretty heavy on offering classes throughout the day,” Rollins said. “For instance, there’s toddler soccer offered at 10 a.m., with a parent or caregiver who could bring them. Then if you go in the evening it’s packed, so I think it does accommodate everyone’s schedule. The weekend’s also a very busy time.”

The next step is to expand the nutrition part of the equation. Everett began with community gardens and urban farming initiatives, but now the Wellness Center has launched a healthy meals program for its members, who will be able to pick up a week’s worth of healthy, prepared meals for $60 a week. Employees in Everett’s human services office do all the cooking, while a registered dietician at the Wellness Center oversees the menu and portion sizes.

“They’re doing it all in house — that’s a major factor in keeping costs down and making sure it’s really healthy,” Rollins said.

For more information, contact Health and Wellness Director Karen Avila at (617) 394-2390.

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