Tennis center looks to create a culture of health in Boston

The health outcomes for residents living in Boston’s Blue Hill Corridor, where most residents are Black and Latino, are significantly worse than in many other areas of the city.

Due to social, historical and systemic factors, the average lifespan here, which includes parts of Dorchester, Mattapan, Roxbury, Hyde Park, South Boston and Jamaica Plain, can be as many as 15 years less than in more affluent places just a few miles away.

Sportsmen’s Tennis & Enrichment Center is working to reverse this trend by providing members of this community with tennis lessons and health and wellness programs that target the most pressing chronic health issues facing families in Boston’s inner-city communities.

This week, the center hosted a series of wellness lessons centered around curriculum provided through the American Heart Association’s EmPOWERED to Serve platform.

Mandy Bass, a registered nurse who is also Sportsmen’s director of the Center for Community Wellness, taught each session. Equipped with a 3D model of the human heart and a portable blood pressure monitor, Bass led the group of community members in discussions on topics such as identifying a heart attack, eating a healthy diet and controlling and monitoring your blood pressure.

“We’re looking at creating spaces to address health equity issues that need to be corrected, and to be able to have access to a program like this that’s so well thought out and put together, and really made for communities like ours, is just fabulous,” said Bass.

This partnership between the American Heart Association and Sportsmen’s Tennis & Enrichment Center was made possible through a sponsorship funded by Sage Therapeutics.

In addition to the tennis center, the Association has provided EmPOWERED to Serve curriculum to Healthworks Community Fitness, a Dorchester fitness center dedicated to promoting the health and empowerment of women and children; Heart of a Giant Foundation, a local non-profit combatting heart disease in under resourced areas of Boston; Madison Park Development Corporation, a non-profit that develops affordable housing; and Breaktime, an organization working to combat youth homelessness.

The goal for the American Heart Association and Sage Therapeutics is that the attendees take something away from each lesson and apply it in their homes and communities.

“Healthy living is not just a goal, it’s a journey, and programs that empower people to take charge of their health are key to creating a world free of heart disease and stroke,” said Karen A. Whitefield, executive director of the American Heart Association in Boston. “They give individuals the tools they need to make informed decisions about their lifestyle choices, which can have a profound impact on their overall well-being.”

Bass said the EmPOWERED to Serve lessons, which are about 30 minutes long, prompted healthy discussion.

Attendees were particularly interested to learn about the symptoms of atrial fibrillation, commonly referred to as AFib, which is an irregular and often very rapid heart rhythm that can lead to blood clots in the heart, she said. They were also interested in learning the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest and how to perform CPR.

“The conversation just really flowed, it was so nice,” said Bass. “They were sharing stories and asking questions based on personal experiences and stories they had heard, which gave the lessons added relevancy.”

Sportsmen’s was founded in 1961 by Jim and Gloria Smith, who were committed to introducing and teaching tennis to inner city Boston youth. Today, the center continues to build leaders on the courts, in the classroom and in the community, serving over 5,000 young people and 1,000 adults annually via partnerships with the Boston Public Schools, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Boston Police Department.

Bass said she hopes to continue using the EmPOWERED to Serve curriculum.

“The content is researched and relevant,” she said. “As a nurse, you want to feel confident that you’re giving good information to people. It couldn’t be easier.”