Why be well?

Being healthy is almost seen as a Colorado value, with the state’s population ranked as being one of the healthiest. But this is not true for all demographic groups. In parts of Denver, physical inactivity is a significant risk factor particularly among the African American population. The Denver Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BFRSS) revealed that 33.9 percent of African Americans residents were obese compared to 13.5 percent of white residents; 43.6 percent have high blood pressure and almost 25 percent admitted not having participated in physical activity in the last 30 days.

Ask yourself, “Am I doing enough to be well?” “Is my neighborhood and community healthy?” This is an imperative conversation for everyone, and the be well Health and Wellness Initiative has started the discussion. be well, an initiative of the Stapleton Foundation aligned with its purpose to create healthy sustainable urban communities, is an innovative movement of neighbors coming together to take charge of their health and wellness in a be well Zone. The be well zones include six neighborhoods –Greater Park Hill, Northeast Park Hill, East Montclair, Montbello, Stapleton and Northwest Aurora.  These are some of the metro area’s most diverse localities across all measures and demographics.      


Health disparities exist in our communities, particularly among low-income African Americans. This is a national problem the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recognized. CDC has partnered with be well through its Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) program to address these differences in Colorado. REACH is a 16-year-old CDC program focused on racial and ethnic communities experiencing health disparities. Recently, be well launched be well be EPIC, an Exchange of Power to Impact Community Change partnership to spark the conversation. be EPIC is a collaboration of individuals, organization and business leaders, and other community stakeholders working to increase access to physical activity opportunities among African Americans. The be EPIC project is cooperatively funded by the CDC, which has invested more than $35 million nationwide to address health disparities.

Djuana Harvell, PhD, project manager for the be well be Epic project, says that the goal of the program is to increase access to physical activity opportunities. Harvell is leveraging the success of be well and be well centers to facilitate physical activity and address some of the policy issues related to greater physical activity. 

A variety of barriers impact health outcomes in the community including local policies and structures. Many of which have made it more difficult for residents with the fewest resources to become and remain physically active.

In the be well Zone, our community members and partners have identified two primary objectives to increase access to physical activity:

  • To support the development of a standard partnership policy that could leverage city resources through collaborations with nonprofit organizations and local businesses to expand access to opportunities for physical activity and lay the groundwork to incorporate health and wellness into the Denver recreation center system.
  • To inform the transit service plans to make transit use more assessable in underserved communities for which riders are often pedestrians first.

The focus of the CDC REACH grant is on changing policies and systems and creating access to opportunities. Stakeholder groups have been formed to bring together decision-makers and community members to advance community input and inform decisions about recreational amenities and transportation services. be well be Epic needs more residents to join the conversation and get involved, says Harvell. “If you are looking for something positive to do in your community join our volunteer base of residents and stakeholders for the be well Health and Wellness Initiative. We provide volunteer training and have a be well block captain approach that offers different tiers of volunteer opportunities.”

Be Active

At the heart of be well are the be well block captains, who are on the ground knocking on doors with the passionate intent of focusing their neighbors on living healthy lifestyles and creating healthy communities. They listen to residents as well as educate them on important health topics, inform them on opportunities and connect them to health resources. be well block captains encourage healthy living through innovative leadership, community organizing and education.

A huge success of the be well block captains’ efforts has been support for the development of the be well centers.  be well  has partnered with the City and County of Denver, the City of Aurora and various other organizations to provide free healthy living services through the establishment of the be well centers. Located at the Hiawatha Davis and Central Park recreation centers in Denver and at Moorhead in Aurora, these facilities offer free fitness and cooking classes for residents in the be well Zone, as well as free heart health screenings that include height, weight, blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol testing. Also, a be well  team member is onsite to  help with enrollment for programs such as Medicaid, food assistance, Connect for Health Colorado Health Insurance and other services. Massage, dental screenings and other services are also offered periodically throughout the year.

Patrice Wallace, a be well center participant, said, “I’m so grateful for the be well centers. They have motivated me to work-out and now I’m hooked!”

What’s stopping you from being well? Motivation? Cost? Anyone 15 years or older living in the be well zones may register for free. No recreation ID is needed. Residents can visit www.bewellconnect.net to learn more and sign up for activities at the be well centers.

Be Youthful

Youth are integral to be well. Studies have shown that not only proper nutrition but physical activity is tied to academic achievement. be well Youth has two major initiatives: the be well Youth Block Captain program and be well Schools Wellness Teams in Denver and Aurora Public Schools. To date, more than 1,700 people have been impacted by the be well Youth program.

Be a Part of the be well Movement

You can learn more about be well and its initiatives, and become better informed about the imperative for healthy living in our communities at a special event, a Tail Gate Party, planned for Saturday, September 19. In the meantime,  throughout August,  be well is having a series of Healthy Happy Hours,  fun and informal, networking events where you can gather and become engaged in the conversation about these health issues and encourage people to engage in physical activity. You can contact be well about hosting one of these events for your organization.  

Everyone has a role in creating healthy communities where we can all achieve the health we desire.  Visit the be well website at www.bewellconnect.net, to learn how you can play your part.