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Healthy Living: be well

Since its inception in 2004, the be well Health and Wellness Initiative
has strived to “advance equitable policies, programs and research by building the capacity of residents to advocate for the tools and resources they need to lead healthy lives and reduce the spread of health disparities.”

be well Health and Wellness Initiative

be well effectively fuels policies and practices that promote health equity by empowering communities to address structural racism.  A key priority of the Initiative is to ensure all stakeholders have a voice in determining the future of their communities.  In addition, be well believes that strategic network-building is central to sustainability and toward that end, invests in maintaining existing partnerships and establishing new ones with businesses and organizations, schools, individuals and residents, among others, to leverage collective assets to better realize shared goals.  The Initiative is also invested in scaling its tried and tested community mobilization model that is designed to address the root cause of health inequities – racist systems – locally, statewide and nationally.



One of the key tenets of the be well Initiative is being community-led. The Initiative is guided by the be well Community Collaborative – “a multisector partnership that consist of residents, be well Block Captains, agencies, elected officials, business leaders, educational leaders and neighborhood organizations.” The Collaborative provides oversight and guidance to the Initiative – informing the design and implementation of the be well Community Action Plan (CAP) which outlines policy priorities, action strategies and goals all geared toward addressing the systemic inequities that erode quality of life for underserved communities and that disproportionately impact the health and wellness of communities of color. 

It is an understatement to say that COVID-19 deeply disrupted the way we function as a society – exacerbating inequities from healthcare access to education and economic security. be well responded by making significant impacts in the communities served. 



The Initiative established a gift card distribution process to help individuals suffering from COVID-19-related economic and health challenges. The program distributed 102, $50 gift cards to residents of Northeast Park Hill, Greater Park Hill, East Colfax, Montbello, Stapleton, Globeville and Elyria Swansea neighborhoods. 

COVID-19 was devastating especially to minority-owned businesses in be well Zone neighborhoods. the Initiative implemented a business relief grant program that allocated resources to minority- and women-owned businesses to keep them open. The program supported public charities and churches to maintain their ability to serve those most in need. The program distributed 31 grants and plans to continue to award grants.  




be well started a four-part series of virtual community conversations in May to provide information and speak to the disproportionate effect of the virus on communities of color.  The series discussed of the role systemic racism has played in eroding the health and wellness of minority communities – making them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. 


Sessions included:  be well in the COVID-19 pandemic; COVID-19 in Northeast Denver and Northwest Aurora; Education Equity and Jobs in the Pandemic; Exacerbation of Inequities and Disparities; Community Connections - What Can We do?; and Housing and Transitioning Back to Everyday Life.

be well has also collaborated with the City of Denver and the Center for African American Health to increase availability and accessibility of COVID-19 testing by holding testing events throughout the summer in underserved local communities. At the first event 124 individuals received testing, 98% were African American. A be well Block Captain said over 780 tests were administered to residents.




be well conducted a backpack drive in partnership with entities such as the Denver Police Department and neighborhood organizations to support families in need.  Volunteers gave out 1,200 backpacks with school supplies and other necessities.  In addition, COVID-19 safety kits and 2,500 boxes of groceries were distributed.

Throughout the year...


Beginning in March and continuing throughout the pandemic, the be well Policy Program provided vital health policy and resource information to more than 800 community members and organizations weekly with an electronic newsletter.


In May and June, the be well Policy Program created literature outlining the provisions of a sweeping police reform law enacted by Colorado to respond to the systemic mistreatment of Black Americans by police. The police reform literature was printed in English and Spanish and distributed to income-qualified housing complexes throughout the be well Zone. Hundreds of community members learned of their new rights regarding police interactions, including legal remedies. 


In October the be well Votes campaign was launched to encourage voting. The be well Policy Program informed more than 800 community members and organizations about state and local ballot initiatives, registration, early voting, polling locations and voting with a criminal record.

Image by Maxim Ilyahov



be well historically has emphasized in-person outreach as one of its most effective volunteer engagement strategies. be well adjusted that work in response to COVID-19.  To assist with social distancing, the Initiative implemented a phone tree for outreach.  One of the key purposes was to check-in on people’s physical and mental health and connect them to resources and other services. Volunteers informed residents about be well’s gift cards and mini grants.




be well responded to the social justice turmoil of 2020 by giving Block Captains safe places for candid conversations and knowledge to better understand how systems are fueling inequities across the social determinants of health. Following the training, captains implemented strategies to continue the conversation through a virtual screening of a movie that demonstrated racial injustice and its impact: Block Captain Training – be well Live Series:  A Virtual Community Conversation and Block Captain Training on Dismantling Racist Systems.

The training used a policy and advocacy curricula that spoke to current socio-economic events. Training sessions also gave participants a safe space to increase understanding of COVID-19, police brutality, racism and economic distress and other health and wellness inequities.  Sessions have focused on topics such as Racism is a Public Health Crisis, Coping during a Pandemic and Civil Unrest, Equity in Education, Race Equity and Economic Growth, and Policing and Criminal Justice Reform, among others. 

Image by Giovanni Gagliardi



be well's Youth program recognized the mental health toll of the pandemic. Youth had to endure not only feeling isolated and support structures but also had to adapt to a virtual academic learning environment in school. Program staff created 20 mental and physical health care packages for its Youth program participants that included punching bags, three-D stress balls and mindfulness cards.  Program staff also conducted virtual meetings with parents on how to best support youth.  In addition, staff initiated regular wellness check-ins with participants.  The program launched virtual anti-racism book clubs (which include discussions of ways to combat racism in the classroom) with five teachers from schools in the be well Zone.  Despite the constraints of COVID-19, the program continues to expand its offerings and strengthen its partnerships.  It engaged COMPASS after-school program and Boys and Girls Club kids and expanded programming to high schools in the be well Zone. 




be well partnered with 11 schools; eight received school wellness mini grants, assisting more than 600 staff members. Schools met virtually once a month throughout the school year. Projects included:​

  • A staff wellness program focused on physical activity and mental health (Schools: Boston, Ashley, High Point, New Legacy, Highline, McGlone)​

  • A staff wellness space (Aurora Central High School and North Middle School)​

  • Three schools used ASSET Education social emotional learning curriculum through a be well partnership, impacting approximately 2,800 youth.


Data show that significant achievement gaps for students of color. The pandemic exacerbated the challenges BIPOC experience in their classes. be well reached out to team-leaders on teacher Wellness teams to form anti-racist teacher reading groups. They met weekly and read/discussed the following books and how themes from the books potentially impact students:

  • So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo

  • Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead

  • Podcast: Nice White Parents

  • How to be an Anti-Racist, Ibram Kendi

  • The Trauma and Attachment Aware Classroom, Rebecca Brooks

  • The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett

  • 12 Years a Slave, Solomon Northup

  • Dreamland Burning, Jennifer Latham

  • I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Image by Sigmund



Virtual House Meetings: 

be well also developed a new strategy to help community leaders and participants leverage the Initiative’s policy agenda with virtual house meetings. Community conversations were held about race and racism and how to dismantle racist systems in neighborhoods, schools, and government. Participants  developed action plans to help dismantle racist systems with the Initiative providing training and support.

Virtual Movie Night:

To continue the conversation on racial injustice be well hosted a virtual movie night, featuring the Oscar winning film Crash.  The film captures the toxicity of racism and how embedded it is in systems. The roughly 50 attendees engaged in a post screening discussion, which broadened understanding of how racism perpetuates disparities and how to mobilize against it. Three quarters of the participants were then willing to engage in corrective efforts.

be well census activities: 

be well engaged 40 Block Captains in a new outreach activity – to educate and encourage community members to participate in the 2020 U.S. Census.  Block Captains corrected disinformation about the census; helped ease fears among immigrants about their citizenship status; and increased understanding of the critical role the census plays to ensure proper political representation and governmental resource allocations.

Image by Tiffany Tertipes



The 40 Block Captains worked to encourage turnout, stressed the importance of voting and answer questions about the voting process.

be well Block Captains launched three community driven campaigns:

  1. Developed and conducted a culturally appropriate COVID-19 awareness campaign to keep day laborers in Northwest Aurora informed and safe.

  2. Addressed racial disparities in health care. 

  3. Homelessness.


In 2020, the be well Health and Wellness Initiative of The Foundation for Sustainable Urban Communities raised $1,047,373 from nearly 15 partner organizations across Colorado to address some of the social determinants of health to advance equity efforts.

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