Health and Wellness Are One Step Away | Depaul Charity

Depaul helps individuals who are homeless, vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Health and Wellness Are One Step Away

June 24th, 2015

New Year’s resolutions are two months old and fading fast. With Spring around the corner, residents and staff at Depaul House, a transitional housing program in Germantown, are thinking about wellness and gearing up for more outdoor activities. Michelle Abbruzzese, Associate Director and Vernon Tolbert, Operations Advisor, have taken the lead with planning health activities to help residents and staff get into shape.

When asked why he works in a program serving homeless men, Vernon replies, “After I started working at Depaul, I realized I had a passion for helping the residents and, moreover, I felt like I owed the community. In my youth, I think I was a detriment to the community and I wanted to become an asset. Becoming a parent changed my outlook and I wanted to give back.”

One of the ways he does this is by helping residents of the program address their health and weight. Vernon hasn’t always paid attention to his health. After his first son was born, he says, “I gained over 150 pounds. I didn’t even notice it until I looked at a photo of myself and didn’t recognize the man in the picture. That was an eyeopener for me.” Since then, Vernon has shed most of the weight and works with Depaul residents to help them pay attention to their own health. “I use myself as an example. I tell them that if you’re not paying attention, you can end up in bad shape. I never tell guys what I think they need to do. I just ask them what small steps they can do to improve themselves,” Vernon states.

In homeless shelters, there are a lot of factors that can lead to weight gain and poor health. “Ricky,” who is concerned about high blood pressure says, “at the shelter I was living in before here, a lot of the food was salty—turkey bacon, canned soup, lunch meat. Also, they’d get a lot of donations of sweets and desserts. When you’ve had a bad day, that can make you feel better, but if you eat them every day, you’ll start to see it.”

Darryl, a resident of the program since April 2015, says, “After talking to Vernon, I decided that I would take two steps. One, I walk anywhere under ten blocks. And, two, I drink 48 ounces of water daily. Taking control of my health has helped me to feel confident that I can take control of other parts of my life.”

Depaul House is a housing program for unemployed men in Germantown. With the average length of stay at eight months, the staff  believes they have enough time to help residents begin to address any health concerns that they might have. Vernon, along with Michelle, has worked with volunteers and local agencies to develop a holistic approach to healthcare.

Since 2010, the Philadelphia Horticultural Society’s (PHS) City Harvest Program has donated material and expertise to build a 25-bed organic garden at Depaul House. In summer 2015, student interns from Drexel University’s Bridging the Gaps developed a cookbook and menu that incorporated food grown in the garden into the meal program. For many residents, the food grown in the garden is a highlight of meals served at Depaul House.

“We just picked the lettuce and tomatoes this morning and now we get to enjoy them for lunch!” Exclaimed Anthony when a green salad was served alongside the regular rotation of sandwiches. Nurses from the La Salle Neighborhood Nursing Center present on health topics at lunch at least one per month. Recent topics have included osteoporosis, diabetes, and prostate health. Residents appreciate the small size of the group and the time the nurses leave to ask questions about how they can improve their own health.

Michelle says, “It’s great that the nurses take time to come to Depaul House so the men can learn about new topics they might not have considered before.” Every spring, the program hosts the Depaul Dash 5K Race/ Walk that starts and ends at Depaul House and winds through the Awbury Arboretum. “In the weeks leading up to the Dash, residents and staff  form a ‘Walking Club’ aft er lunch and we walk part of the course,” Michelle reports.

“Some residents don’t think they can walk 5K, but aft er a few weeks of walking, they are ready to tackle the race!” Vernon says, “We think that everyone can take charge of their own health. You start with one small change and then things can build from there. Whether it’s being more mindful of what you eat, or walking, or learning about how to prevent chronic illness, everyone can improve their health.”


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