This past Wednesday, March 30th, Near West Side advocates gathered with residents at the College Court Apartments to discuss health and wellness on the Near West Side. During this meeting, the results of a concept mapping activity were shared with the residents. The concept mapping activity was completed by around 150 Near West Side residents, many of which were residents of College Court. The results of the survey revealed a need for multiple approaches to health and wellness. Some of which include investments in young people, vibrant social spaces, health and wellness services, public infrastructure, modes of transportation, community-engaged public safety, sustainable businesses, strong and inclusive neighborhoods, and high quality and affordable housing. 

During the Resident Council event, participants were able to discuss what aspects of health and wellness they see as lacking and or most important to address in the Near West Side in response to the survey results. One resident by the name of Nicole Bins believes that the most important aspect of health and wellness affecting the Near West Side is mental health. Nicole says that “Mental health issues run rampant in Milwaukee”, and it scares her to feel like these problems aren’t always being attended to.  

To address some of these health and wellness disparities occurring in our community, the Near West Side Partnership partnered with Above the Clouds, a local organization that aims at bringing free, faith-based, arts education and training to individuals across Milwaukee. Above the Clouds held a special event for those who attended the council meeting, where residents were able to participate in a group exercise class and learn tools to amplify health and wellness from the comfort of their own chairs.  

Barbara Melsheimer, Co-Founder and Director of Operations at Above the Clouds was present at the event, and she and her other fellow instructors exuded positive energy as they eased residents into the experience. One workout instructor by the name of Nina called residents her “family” and told participants that she loves her job and the opportunity it gives her to serve her community. 

The health and wellness exercises began with light stretching and escalated to activities where participants had the option to stand from their chairs. Throughout, the Above the Cloud instructors maintained an emphasis on individual pace and ability, encouraging residents to remain within their comfort zone. Live-upbeat music bolstered the spirits of participants, one resident even exclaiming “let’s go!” as instructors and participants continued to encourage each other.   

Barbra Melsheimer communicated the importance of these educational experiences and emphasized to the residents that “movement helps with flexibility and mobility.” She and the other instructors hope that participants use the movements they learned to continue their own health and wellness. When asked about what she wants residents to gain from this experience, instructor Karma McMillian said, “Fun, movement, and a better quality of life.”   

When speaking with residents after their workout, all the participants were pleasantly surprised by the event. What started off as an unfamiliar experience, turned into residents’ hope to repeat in the future. One participant, Sandrine Winters, explained that she tends to feel out of shape, but after her experience with Above the Clouds she feels less tight and has more energy. Another resident, Sharon Johnson, agreed with Sandrine and said, “I loved this event, and I can see that my fellow residents have lots of energy and enjoyed this event as well!” 

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