By K. Levek
The Congress Heights Wellness Center sits at 3500 MLK Jr. Ave. SE tucked right in back of Ballou Senior High School. When you walk in Mrs. Alethea Campbell immediately greets you. Mrs. Campbell is the longtime volunteer who has served in the center since it opened in 2011, volunteering from 8am to 5pm daily.
Mrs. Campbell is a commissioner with the Commission on Aging, which is apart of the Office on Aging. She began lobbying for the wellness center decades ago when Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry was still the mayor. “Jane and I told Barry that we needed a senior wellness center in our ward because there were ones in others.”
The late Jane Vines and Campbell were the force behind the opening and consistently lobbied for it until the doors opened. Campbell said, “we had to talk and fight…it wasn’t easy, but we got the center.” The center officially opened under the Anthony Williams administration, but Barry put it in the city’s budget and did all of the legwork to get it approved.
The center, which is managed by Providence Hospital, is open Monday through Friday from 8am until 5pm. To become a member one must be a District resident and 60 years or older. The center is just one of 7 across the city, with each ward having one except ward 2. It serves as a health education and applied learning center where seniors can participate in activities through the form of classes like nutrition, exercise, reflexology, smoking cessation and other health dialogues. The centers also offer seminars, support groups, creative arts and peer leader training.
The centers are provided to help seniors maintain their independence and avoid premature institutionalization, helping achieve this through on-site evaluations, screening and treatment for people with illnesses, injuries or disabilities.
Campbell says that she enjoys that the centers focus on health education. She notices many seniors who attend the center need help with understanding some of their healthcare needs and the wellness center fills that void. “People learn a lot here because different groups come in to speak to us about things that affect seniors.” Mrs. Campbell enjoys volunteering at the center because she enjoys helping her peers.
Originally from Golsboro, North Carolina, Mrs. Campbell moved to D.C. as a young woman after a friend talked her into it. She has lived in Ward 8 during most of her time in the District, only briefly living in the Ward 7 Fort Dupont area. She currently lives on Congress Street SE.
She says that she became civically involved when her young son was in the Boy Scouts. She became a Den mother and her involvement sparked from there. When he was in elementary school she attended a Parent/Teacher Association (PTA) meeting at Kimball Elementary and a white lady said to the parents that they didn’t know how much she [the white lady] had done for their children. This fueled Campbell and she stood up in the meeting and declared, “My husband and I can do just find for our child. Tell me how you want me to get involved?” After the meeting she was asked to step up and become the PTA president and she did.
When she lived in Ward 7 she spent lots of time working with the 6th District Police Advisory Board and helped to get the 7th District Police Department located in Ward 8. A true member of her civic community, she also served as chair of the mental health board area D representing Ward 8, when St. Elizabeth’s was turned over from the federal government to D.C. government. She still works with the mentally ill community to this day.
Her passion for seniors is apparent in her smile. “I enjoy helping and working with seniors,” she said. After retiring from AT&T she began volunteering at Congress Heights Wellness Center and has been there everyday since the ribbon opening. Her passion to serve continues to motivate all those around her as members can be seen greeting the 80-year old Campbell as they enter the front doors of the center.