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The second Well City Challenge will officially launch Saturday, Jan. 21. Graphic Courtesy of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia.
The second Well City Challenge will officially launch Saturday, Jan. 21. Graphic Courtesy of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia.

Engaging community voices in addressing Philly’s health disparities through the Well City Challenge

The second iteration of the innovative social impact competition is launching this month, starting with a kickoff event on Saturday, Jan. 21.

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Nicole Kenney has long been involved in work addressing racial and economic disparities impacting diverse communities of color, particularly for Black women like herself. 

So, when she first heard about the Well City Challenge from her sister, it immediately piqued her interest. 

Officially launched in 2021, the Well City Challenge is an 18-month social impact competition that seeks and supports everyday innovators who have new, creative ideas for addressing Philadelphia’s health and wellness challenges. 

The Well City Challenge is the product of a partnership between the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and Accelerate Health Equity, and is powered by Independence Blue Cross. 

Tia Abdulhadi, impact lab program associate at the Economy League of Philadelphia, shared some details about what went into the launch of this initiative.

“The healthcare system is built into our city… but ever since COVID, it’s been less physical,” she told AL DÍA. 

As telehealth became among the most common — and safest — avenues to face certain health challenges during the start of the pandemic, it has put a strain on many diverse communities. 

Amplifying the voices of those very communities is one of the key objectives of the Well City Challenge. 

During its inaugural year, the Well City Challenge focused on mental and heart health  — two areas where Black and Latinx communities across Philadelphia face significant disparities, reduced access to quality care, and utilization. 

Abdulhadi noted that it’s important to also address mental health when taking into account the overall wellness of a human being. 

That was one of the most pressing issues stated by the individuals who participated in the competition. 

Having participated in the process herself, there was one element among many that particularly stood out to Kenney. 

“What really caught my attention at the very beginning was the call for community-based solutions,” Kenney told AL DÍA. 

“Really seeing the Well City Challenge as an opportunity to invite those folks who are closest to the problem to give ideas and recommendations on what can be done to get the opportunity to have the funding, mentoring, and partnerships to bring it to life and scale, is what made it super exciting for me,” she continued. 

Those elements are paramount.

“It’s kind of impossible to solve community challenges without uplifting the voices in the community,” Abdulhadi added. 

Hey! Auntie

Kenney is a notable founder, entrepreneur and social impact leader from Philadelphia.

She not only participated in, but she won the grand prize of the inaugural Well City Challenge.

She did so through Hey! Auntie, a multi-generational wellness and social networking platform for Black women, that facilitates purposeful connections through different avenues, including conversations, fitness, and volunteerism. 

In 2015 when Kenney was feeling burnt out from stress, anxiety, perfectionism, and other forms of mental and physical challenges, it was her aunties — a term of endearment she uses to address her biological aunt, as well as other women in her community — who helped guide her through the situation and nurse her back to health.

“They did that by basically sharing stories with me that normalized these experiences that I was going through, and made me realize that I was not the only one,” Kenney said.  

As part of her healing journey, Kenney created a documentary of these stories. Initially, the documentary was just for herself. However, when she began to share the documentary with others, something very striking happened.

“What I found was that folks were really gravitating to hearing other women share their stories,” said Kenney. 

During that same time period, she began working at her local YMCA, where she was teaching strength training classes to a multi-generational group of predominantly Black women.

During the social unrest in the aftermath of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Kenney was also doing consulting work for those who were traumatized by the events. 

All those endeavors tie into one of her main goals — providing a way for Black women to bond and support each other. 

The Well City Challenge added another layer to that. 

“It was really a convergence of my personal lived experience, my professional experience, my community experience, and being in this technology space for a couple of years, and using that as an opportunity to pitch, Hey! Auntie,” Kenney said. 

Kenney shared that she was “overwhelmed with tears,” when she first learned she was selected as the $50,000 grand prize winner. 

The tears were genuine and served a great purpose to her.

“I think Black women… there [are] a lot of us who are doing really great work, and sometimes you just feel like you’re not being heard or you’re not being seen.”

She continued, “I was even more excited for people to elevate Black women as women who are deserving of care, women who deserve the support and the resources to be able to thrive and reach their full potential.”

Kenney takes a holistic approach to this endeavor, and aims to create a system that provides support for Black women at every age and stage of their lives. 

Bringing it Back in 2023

The next iteration of the Well City Challenge is almost upon us.

On Saturday, Jan. 21, the Economy League will be hosting a launch event of the second Well City Challenge. 

“The purpose of the launch event is to celebrate us kicking off the Well City Challenge, making sure that everyone in the city knows about this opportunity and just getting people invested,” said Abdulhadi. 

This year, the Well City Challenge will accept proposals that address these key issues:

  • Supporting Community & Social Connections
  • Breaking Barriers to Equitable Access to Nutrition & Care
  • Creating Safe Spaces in our Streets, Homes & Communities

“It all goes toward the sentiment of supporting people where they are, and the connectedness between them all,” Abdulhadi noted. 

Taking place at The Franklin Institute, the event will feature a full day’s worth of activities for families and individuals of all ages. 

The Well City Challenge is open to anyone age 18 and older, living or working in the Philadelphia area, who has an innovative solution to address at least one of the key issues listed. Applicants can apply as individuals or in teams composed of no more than four people. 

“There’s a lot of money being given out… so I think that’s probably the biggest incentive for people who have ideas,” Abdulhadi noted. 

“We provide stipends throughout the challenge, so it’s a commitment. But people will be getting $10,000 stipends… and then the grand prize winner gets $50,000.”

Click here for more information about the Well City Challenge and the pitch competition. 

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