New Lender Fellowship project to focus on women’s health and wellness

New Lender Fellowship project to focus on women’s health and wellness

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Syracuse University’s Lender Center for Social Justice chose Seyeon Lee, an associate professor in the School of Design at the College of Visual and Performing Arts, to act as the 2021-23 Lender Faculty Fellow. Lee plans to focus her project on improving access to health and wellness services for women.

The Lender Center for Social Justice, housed in Syracuse University’s School of Education, works to support equity and inclusion in the greater Syracuse community. One way the center does this is by electing help from community members through a fellowship program for faculty and students.

Every year, a faculty member is named a Lender Faculty Fellow and leads a two-year project. Five students are chosen as Lender Student Fellows every two years and collaborate directly with the elected faculty fellow to act in a supporting role, according to the Lender fellowship’s website. The program enables students to be exposed to research-based learning.

After connecting with CenterState CEO, a Syracuse-based economic development organization, Lee is helping design the YMCA’s Northside Women’s Wellness Center, which opened in fall 2020 and aims to be an accessible space for women of all socioeconomic backgrounds, ages and ethnicities to pursue wellness.

“(The Northside is) where low-income families, a lot of new Americans, and first and second (generation) immigrant families first settled,” Lee said. “It’s one of those neighborhoods where college students from schools like Syracuse and Le Moyne don’t really hang out.”

The wellness center offers a variety of services, including a women-only fitness center, equipped with weights, cardio equipment and circuit strength machines. The center also hosts speakers who talk about nutrition and dieting as well as physical and mental wellness events and support group programs, Lee said.

Though the Northside Women’s Wellness Center is open to women of all backgrounds, Lee specifically wants to focus on single mothers. Single mothers, Lee said, are “women that impact so many other people surrounding them.”

New Lender Fellowship project to focus on women’s health and wellness

Iona Volynets, a sophomore in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, is a current Lender Student Fellow. She said she was inspired to partake in the Lender Center Fellowship project due to a startup from her hometown in Washington, D.C., called Kyanite Kitchen. The kitchen focuses on providing the Washington area with fresh produce and vegan-based meals for free.

“I’d seen the work they’ve done, and I was really inspired,” Volynets said. “So when Dr. Lee let us pick what area we wanted to focus on within the center, I was interested in getting access to fresh produce.”

Currently, Volynets’ main objective is creating a program that gives fresh produce to members of the center, their families and eventually the local Syracuse community. She is still in the early stages of accomplishing her goal and is reaching out to experts in food security to gain insight on how to construct a system that will help people access free produce.

After consulting with Lee, Volynets also plans to contact community gardens and farms to learn which crops are easy to grow in New York and their potential yield.

We have to look at many different pockets and work together as a community.

Seyeon Lee, 2021-23 Lender Faculty Fellow

Though Lee did not begin working with the Northside Women’s Wellness Center until 2018, she has been working with this area of research for over 10 years and practiced as an architectural designer, urban planner and interior designer for 14 years.

“That’s where I developed my passion of improving the quality of living conditions that really impact everyday people, rather than the 1{ab24ffeec902ceefbc5fdafafd943b0c5d12b666e16ef1a5e7125e4fcd74f5fa} of population that I personally don’t belong to,” Lee said. “Someone that I can relate to, someone that I can really change their life, in this particular case, Northside.”

Ana S. Aponte González, another Lender Student Fellow, said there are hurdles for the fellows to overcome to bring the goals of the project to fruition, though.

“You can have a beautiful place with all of these resources and amenities that can give back to the community, but the underlying problem is attracting those people to the center,” said González, a sophomore double majoring in VPA and the College of Arts and Sciences.

She is also a member of a volunteering program with La Casita Cultural Center, which focuses on bridging the Hispanic communities of SU and central New York through civic engagement and research. From her affiliation with La Casita and its community center, González recognized that La Casita and the Northside Women’s Wellness Center shared similar problems. Many participants in La Casita’s children’s programs lack access to transportation to the center, she said.

González said the Lender fellows are taking steps to connect with other community centers and identify an overarching problem.

“After that research is done, we’re going to try to incorporate a pilot program to see if our solution works out and actually benefits the center,” González said.

Lee hopes to create some sort of a framework that can be applied to other community centers if the project is successful.

“We can’t just focus on one set of a population or demographics,” Lee said. “We have to look at many different pockets and work together as a community.”

Contact David: [email protected]