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Well City Challenge: Meet the Mind/Body finalists


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Finding balance and maintaining mental health hasn’t been easy for anyone lately, and Philly’s millennial generation already faced some of the highest rates of anxiety and depression, according to a nationwide study by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

The Well City Challenge aims to find new ways to help. After going through more than 100 applications to the social impact incubator, a committee put together by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia selected 15 top candidates in three categories.

Under the Mind/Body category, potential ideas include new running clubs, spreading mental health awareness at barber shops, and publicly acknowledging we all could all use an excuse to stop and breathe for a minute.

Here’s a look at the finalists, who’ll face off at a pitch competition on Thursday, March 4, with a chance to win $10k in funding. Pick up a free ticket and you can help choose the $7.5k People’s Choice winner.

Growing up in Mt. Airy, McKenzie Nash’s memories are full of Saturdays spent at the beauty salon or barber shop. They were the site of conversations about love, “life, success, failure, family, hurt, pain, struggle, triumph and everything in between,” where people unpacked life experiences to a support system of staff and patrons.

Now that Nash is a mental health professional with lots of experience — helping incarcerated men as well as fellow pros via her firm The Heart to Heal — she sees salons and barber shops as the perfect “safe space.” Shear Balance, in her vision, will use the community gathering spots to break through the stigma around discussing emotional and mental stability.

Advisor: Carniesha Kwashie, Chief Equity and Strategy Officer at Bicycle Transit Systems

Brenda Hernandez Torres has been a community organizer since she was 17 years old. The South Philly native started with youth development and public education, and is now leading the mobility justice charge at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

The idea behind VeloLingo, which is Latin for “fast language,” is to spread the word about the benefits of biking to the city’s immigrant communities. These groups often already depend heavily on bicycles for transportation, so the program — offered in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, and French — will aim to help people learn about also using them for health and wellness.

Advisor: Peter Blau, CEO at IT Data

Takia McClendon has seen firsthand how getting into running can help improve health and wellness. In 2013, the West Oak Lane native founded City Fit Girls, an all-levels running and fitness community that centers the experience of women of all ages. Now she hopes to launch a program that brings the same benefits to Philly’s millennial population.

The professional personal trainer has experience making it work even when people can’t gather in big groups. Last fall, she hosted the inaugural Virtual Harvest 10-Mile/5K run. More than 400 people signed up, and half opted in for the 10-week training program with McClendon and her team.

Advisor: Cathryn Sanderson, Manager of Wellness at Comcast

Takia McClendon, cofounder of City Fit Girls, is working on Strides
Courtesy Takia McClendon

A social worker at Turning Points who has supported young adults as a coach, mentor and peer, Jose Ferran recognizes 2020 as a time of unusual pain and trauma across our Philadelphia, especially for Black and brown millennials.

The Hunting Park wants everybody to slow down and breathe — and also be aware of others taking the time to do so. With a map that visualizes ZIP codes of residents who sign up for the program, that’s what he hopes to achieve with Philly’s Big Breath, which will be housed within the existing Our Words Heal project.

Truly healing, Ferran says, can be greatly helped by “a public statement that, yes, we are dealing with the impacts of trauma, and that, collectively and individually, we can heal.”

Advisor: Michelle Histand, Director of Innovation at Independence Blue Cross

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Asian Americans have faced anti-Asian racism and discrimination. For more than a year now, Macau native Esther Castillo has been developing mental health and wellness programs to help her community deal with the backlash. A sociologist who’s been in Philly since 2004, she works with families via the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation and has facilitated conversations as a college professor for almost a decade.

Over the past 12 months, Castillo and partners in this project have held a few virtual workshops around race, racial trauma and racism, which they said were positively received. Their new program is envisioned as a place that takes these sessions beyond education and turns them into a healing process.

Advisor: Albert Butler, Director of Community Outreach and Member Diversity at Fitler Club



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