Health and Well-Being

Synergy Health Center

Synergy Health Center’s UrbanZone is strategically located between the North and East sides of Kalamazoo, with the goal of improving the quality of life for Black and Brown adolescents in the community. The COVID-19 pandemic brought an unprecedented disruption to the educational system, an uncanny recognition of social injustices and the unfolding of trauma in the lives of
our youth.

UrbanZone was able to act quickly, including opening its doors as a Community Learning Hub in partnership with Kalamazoo Youth Development Network and Kalamazoo Public Schools to provide educational support weekly. To better serve youth and community, we found ourselves pivoting and restructuring program delivery. We took time to revisit the heart of our mission and vision looking for greater impact. Out of the ashes, we developed a new cohort approach creating tremendous learning opportunities for students in 9th through 12th grade while providing educational and mental health support.

Through the support of various funders, UrbanZone was able to launch several innovative programs, including The College Academic Success Team (CAST), designed to prepare students for academic success and college preparation. Collaboration with Kalamazoo Valley Community College helps bring the college experience directly to the students, including college tours. UrbanZone also launched the Mind Health Ambassadors Program, which teaches adolescents about mental health and mindfulness techniques, including Yoga practices, so they can become mind health ambassadors in their schools and community. Our new programming allows more students to be helped by our mission of transforming lives and empowering people for a lifetime.

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Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine (WMed) implemented relevant Kalamazoo County health education programs. For instance, Vaccine Community Team Champions partnered with inner-city community organizations – Mothers of Hope, El Concillio and Hope thru Navigation – to provide vaccines and vaccination education for Kalamazoo’s diverse patient population, including those who are unhoused.

Meanwhile, WMed medical students received real-world experience led by WMed faculty Dr. Cheryl Dickson, Associate Dean, Health Equity and Community Affairs and Associate Professor, Pediatrics, and Dr. Matt Longjohn, Assistant Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine. In total, 95% of the community members who attended our events received vaccinations and others learned more about the misconceptions of the vaccine from medical students.

Indeed, WMed students are working with grassroots organizations to create culturally responsive messaging aimed at providing education about the COVID-19 vaccine and addressing hesitancy among many in the Black and Hispanic communities, thereby encouraging them to receive the vaccine. According to Dr. Dickson: “This work is going to help the students be better providers in the future as physicians and they will learn what it means to be able to communicate more effectively with patients from diverse backgrounds who might not have as much trust in the healthcare system. That’s really what will help in the improvement of health outcomes.”

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ASK Family Services

ASK Family Services provides peer support to families and youth in the Kalamazoo Community. Our mission is to assist families and their children who have developmental, mood, emotional, and behavioral challenges to understand and navigate services, advocate effectively, and achieve their potential.

Our staff members have lived experiences of disability, either as a parent of a child with special needs or as a youth who has experienced mental health challenges. Through the barriers we have faced individually we aim to inspire hope and help families recognize the strengths they have to draw from during diffcult times.

The services ASK provides to families can decrease isolation, empower parents, share knowledge on effective parenting, increase community involvement, provide an opportunity to have a voice, increase resiliency, and ensure that those we serve are not alone during times of need. Our families achieve these outcomes through one-on-one interactions, support-group participation, the location of community resources, trainings focused on challenges they face, social events, and evidenced-based parental learning opportunities.

The youth we serve have many opportunities to gain leadership skills, reduce stigma around mental health challenges, inform the various systems they may be involved with, learn to have an authentic voice in their care, acquire new skills, and develop positive and supportive relationships. These goals are accomplished through our youth advisory group and youth peer support programs in both individual and group formats. At ASK Family Services, we help families and youth recognize their strengths and use them to build a better future for themselves. Because we have all faced similar challenges we are uniquely qualifed to share our experiences, strengths, and hope to empower those we serve to achieve their fullest potential.

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Cheff Therapeutic Riding Center

Situated amongst the farmland and forest in Augusta, MI, is one of our area’s best kept secrets: the Cheff Therapeutic Riding Center. Well known on the Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies international scene, this little gem has been quietly making a huge impact right here in our backyard for 50 years.

Monday through Friday year round, clients run, walk, and roll their way through the doors at Cheff, eager to meet up with “their” horse and go for a ride. Clients range in age from two to eighty-six, and all face physical, emotional, or cognitive challenges in their daily lives. In 2018, the program served an average of 125 clients per week (for a grand total of 625 individuals) through their equine-based Therapeutic Riding, Hippotherapy (physical therapy), and unmounted programs.

Week in and week out at this little slice of horse heaven children are slowing the inevitable progression of terminal diseases, senior citizens are strengthening muscles and improving balance, US veterans are smiling again, battles with addiction are being won, first sentences are being spoken, first steps are being taken, and countless other milestones are being achieved. All of these wonderful accomplishments have been made possible by more than 300 annual volunteers and the financial support of our community.

For more information or to tour the farm, visit

KRESA WoodsEdge Learning Center

Kalamazoo RESA’s WoodsEdge Learning Center is an innovative school dedicated to developing independence in our students. Our students have varied disabilities (cognitive impairments, severe multiple impairments, autism, blindness, hearing impairments) but also many abilities. We are driven by our vision of a community without barriers, and teach our students in community places outside the school environment.

Music therapy is a part of our program that capitalizes on something nearly all students love. In music therapy, students learn about rhythm, singing, dance, and feelings associated with the music they hear. Students experience visits from performers from our community who share their music, dance, and storytelling. Each year students also attend performances in the community, an activity some may not otherwise experience.

The major focus of music therapy is to give students another way to learn new skills, to teach the joy of music of all genres, and to give them an opportunity to show us their talents. Some students have discovered hidden singing talents and the ability to play the piano by ear, and when they express themselves through music they remind us that life is to be enjoyed. The smiles, dancing during concerts, and exuberant clapping are great lessons for the adults who support our students too.

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STREET Program of Community Healing Center

STREET is an afterschool program for boys ages 10 – 17, which teaches Survival skills, builds relationships based on respect and Trust, provides needed Resources, provides Education and training, and Empowers forward movement, so that They can become productive and positive role models for their peers and the community.

STREET is designed to provide boys with a safe and supportive, home-like environment during critical hours. Program operation hours are from 3:30 – 7:30 pm, transportation is provided, and pick up starts at 2:30 pm. Snacks and a full course dinner are provided Monday through Friday.

The program aims to boost academic achievement and self-esteem, and to build positive relationships within our community. STREET has had a positive impact on the boys enrolled. Through community outreach, other public awareness projects, and activities, STREET has successfully made a positive impact in the lives of over 60 underserved, amazing young men.

“I’m thankful for the STREET Program because it has taught me to deal with issues at home and in school. I used to argue with my mother, talk back to my teachers, and get in trouble at school. The program helps me with my homework and teaches me to make better decisions and improve my behavior. STREET is a great place for me to attend.” — Malik

Program focus includes academic improvement, consistency in program attendance, attending school regularly, leadership qualities, social-emotional growth, life skills development, increase in knowledge, resiliency, and mental health support services. Youth: volunteer at Roof Sit, Tips for Kids, and community cleanup projects; participate in speaking engagements; and were facilitators at Western Michigan University for Community Mental Health’s Wraparound Conference.

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Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services / Healthy Living Campus

Proper nutrition is essential for a healthy life. Kalamazoo Valley Community College demonstrates a recognition of this connection and a commitment to health through the Bronson Healthy Living Campus and the new Culinary School. This partnership provides educational courses for both healthcare professionals and community members looking to develop their knowledge of nutrition and health.

Understanding that unhealthy eating habits can also lead to symptoms of behavioral health disorders, Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services engages with these partners in a unique and innovative collaboration. Custom curricula address the issues of community health, behavioral health, intellectual and developmental disability, home and community-based supports, chronic disease management, and healthy and sustainable foods. Students learn proper food preparation
and cooking techniques, and that convenience or processed foods are not always the healthiest choices. Students themselves prepare meals and are taught food-based options that enhance health.

To receive this training or read more about the course, go to: or

Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine / Early Introduction to Health Careers II

Early Introduction to Health Careers II is the WMU Homer Stryker MD School of Medicine’s first-ever pipeline program. The goal of the program is to develop an interest in biomedical science and health careers among underrepresented and disadvantaged high school sophomores and juniors from the Kalamazoo Public School district. The program is designed to improve science content comprehension and acquisition of problem solving and critical thinking skills, and enhance student success in higher education attainment.

In the 2015–16 school year, approximately 25 KPS students participated in a monthly Saturday Science Academy at the School of Medicine. Participants heard presentations from, and connected with, Kalamazoo area healthcare professionals representing a wide array of careers and specialties. Students and their parents received coaching on study skills, financial preparation for college, and the finer details of utilizing their Kalamazoo Promise scholarship.

In the summer, the medical school partnered with Kalamazoo College to provide the high school students with an intensive summer camp experience. Students spent one week gaining laboratory and research experience in the anatomy lab at K-College, and another at the medical school with med-student mentors. At the medical school, students developed clinical skills such as taking heart rate and blood pressure, and conducted research to develop and present case study posters on the final day of camp.

The program is now in its second year and has expanded to eight Saturday sessions and increased enrollment to now serve 52 sophomores from the Kalamazoo Public School District.

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Community Healing Centers / Coming Together: A Community Conference on Addiction and Recovery

In 2007, Community Healing Centers set a goal to bring community members together “To enhance public and professional knowledge, understanding and attitudes toward persons suffering from addictive disease.” We believed that, with this knowledge and with community conversations, we could reduce the stigma associated with addiction and help more people receive treatment. This was the beginning of the Coming Together Conference on Addiction and Recovery.

Each year since, nationally recognized speakers, authors, and actors have come to Kalamazoo to share their expertise and stories to help educate and inform the community while enhancing conversations about addiction and recovery. The Specialty Program in Alcohol and Drug Abuse at Western Michigan University has been a partner in this conference from the beginning. In 2011, the Drug Treatment Court Foundation joined as a partner, and throughout the years, other local businesses and foundations have become supporters of the project.

Presenters have included Dr. Claudia Black, Sis Wenger, Dr. Robert Ackerman, William Cope Moyers, Martin Sheen, Earl Hightower, Mark Lundholm, Dr. Carlton Erickson, Dr. Carlo DiClemente, Dr. Robert Zucker, Dr. Lisa Najavits and Dr. Jeannette Johnson. Our conference and community event have a great reputation in the field and presenters are pleased to be a part of this.

Each year, the Coming Together Conference on Addiction and Recovery includes a community event that is free and open to the public and an all-day conference for professionals and community members that offers continuing education units for various professions. Community Healing Centers is proud of the growth of the conference, and especially of the community conversations that have resulted from it.

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Family Health Center – Back to School Bash

The Back to School Bash exists to not only celebrate wellness for at-risk children and families in Kalamazoo’s most vulnerable neighborhoods, but also to incentivize at-risk parents to prepare their children for school with Well-Child exams, immunizations and dental screenings. Last year, over 1,500 children attended the event. Not only do these children receive their annual exams and immunizations, they will also receive much-needed backpacks and school supplies in order to gear up for the school year. Organizers also hope the event serves as a means to educate and support parents who are struggling with poverty, single parenthood, and a variety of stressors that put their families at risk. Back to School Bash’s primary goal is to prepare and ultimately keep children in school. Every year in our community, literally hundreds of children are discharged from school due to inadequate immunization status. These children are not allowed to return to school until they receive proper documentation. Due to office backlogs and last-minute requests for service, children who are already at risk are delayed several weeks thus placing them further behind in their learning. Our goal is to proactively get children immunized, prepared for school, and help keep them well in school.