Student brings health awareness to community

Originally published March 24, 2013 in The Commonwealth Times

Liz Butterfield
Assistant News Editor

While many VCU fans and students gathered around televisions to watch the VCU vs. Michigan basketball game in on Saturday afternoon, students, families and community members gathered outside to enjoy an afternoon of activity and wellness education in Jackson Ward.

During the “Be More Than OK Wellness Day,” local health services groups and volunteers teamed up to provide health information to the Richmond community. Nineteen groups participated in the event that provided HIV screenings, STI testing, a blood drive, oral health gift bags, free condoms and protection information, an obstacle course, dozens of raffle prizes and more.

The mastermind behind this day of health and community? She’s not even a college graduate.

Senior community health education major Kathleen Osei began the idea for “Be More Than OK Wellness Day” in November 2012 with just an idea and a conversation with a few friends, said her adviser and internship leader Ray Tademy, a postdoctoral research fellow with the Center for Cultural Experiences in Prevention at VCU.

After working as marketing director for the Hope Water company last year, Osei came up with idea for an event that combined awareness with health and community activity. With little initial support, Osei decided she should still pursue her idea.

“I wanted it to be interactive, I didn’t want it to be just a health fair where people were tabling and handing out flyers,” she said. “I wanted people to go and have fun … while still learning.”

She brought her plan next to Tademy, who was working with Osei as an intern in the community health department at VCU. To her surprise, he turned her small idea into a huge possibility.

“I was recognizing that I was not talking to an average person,” Tademy said about his first discussions with Osei on her proposal. “A lot of people have ideas … and they sound great but they don’t have a strategy.”

“Not only did she have an idea but she had a way to pull it off,” he said.

Osei’s goals were to spread the idea of heath in the Richmond community, from students to families to those without any kind of health care access.

“I want the community to learn about their resources that are available to them and I really want them to learn about the importance of preventative medicine,” Osei said.

Over the next few months Osei worked to gather vendors, coordinate with donors and reach the Richmond community to get the word out about her event. Although she had never worked on a project like this before, Osei devoted between 15 and 20 hours a week to working on her event in addition to going to school full-time.

And her efforts had big results. After starting with zero budget and no guaranteed income, Osei was able to raise $650 to cover the cost of renting Abner Clay Park, where the event would be held for the afternoon, insurance fees, use of portable toilets, kids prizes and promotional material. Because of a discount given to Osei on the cost of the park, she was even able to donate $50 apiece to four local charities and purchase last-minute T-shirts for her volunteers.

Despite being mostly a single-handed effort, Osei said she appreciated the support of those who helped make her idea a possibility.

“I’m super grateful to the people that just heard my story and understood,” she said. “Especially because I wasn’t with a corporation or a business … to believe in just a student, you know.”

Tables varied from Richmond organizations, to non-profit companies, to members of the military, all providing information on how to take better care of yourself.

“I’ve never really seen (an event) focused on health and wellness,” said VCU graduate student Brittany Keegan, a volunteer for the International Foundation for PsychoSocial Wellness table. “If you dont have a healthy community it’s hard … You have to start with yourself first,” she said. “It makes it easier and more productive when you go out into the community and help others.”

About 40 people attended the event, taking away pamphlets, gift bags and a refreshed idea of personal wellness.

Tademy said he believes that much of Osei’s success came from her motivation and dedication to her own project.

“She was able to see the big picture at the same time recognizing the little things that had to be done,” he said.

Through her discipline, creativity and ability to solve problems Tademy said, Osei was able to pull this off.

“I saw a brilliant person who can do great things and it was my responsibility (as a faculty member) to help her reach it,” Tademy said. “The skys the limit and she’s actually begun.”

Kelly Nourse, a healthy eating specialist at Whole Foods Market in Short Pump, said Osei reached out to them to be a part of the VCU community. “She’s great … she’s very organized and very accommodating,” Nourse said. “I really appreciated her.”

The event was a good marketing tool for the company because they were able to reach out to people who wouldn’t have normally come into the store, Nourse said.

“We reached out to a lot of folks. … It was a good educational opportunity.”

Although student turnout was low, according to Osei, many families and community members came to the out for the wellness event.

“I really enjoyed it,” said Sake Burke, a local community member. “To get out and talk to people and the kids had fun.”

Although she said she didn’t learn anything new from the event, Burke said she enjoyed the information given and would likely return if it was held again next year.

“It’s really something you look forward to.”

With free samples, prizes, an overwhelming amount of information and community support, Osei said her first annual wellness day event was a success.

“Hopefully this will set the ground for an annual thing; we can do it again and I can show people this is what I’ve done would you like to be a part of this,” she said.

After she walks during the May graduation ceremony, Osei will complete a 600-hour internship requirement before she collects her diploma and starts a career in community health.

“I would love to start at the local level making changes,” said Osei, who one day hopes to make changes on the national level with the National Institutes of Health. But first she hopes to make small changes locally.

“In order to make change on the national level you have to start on the local level … you have to make the community care,” she said.

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