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Reporting on health and quality of life in South LA

UMMA Clinic celebrates new wellness center, garden at Fremont High School

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A wellness center at Fremont High School that broke ground just over a year ago had its grand opening on Friday morning, adding to South Los Angeles' burgeoning school-based health movement.

The Fremont Wellness Center and Community Garden will be operated by UMMA Community Clinic and will serve students of Fremont High as well as residents of the surrounding community.

Dr. Felix Aguilar, the president and CEO of UMMA, said he was most excited about Fremont's combination of clinic and garden, something he said "brings a lot of integration of different services, of different elements, into one place."

"We recognize that people are not parts of themselves," he said. "We're trying to integrate both the healthy eating with access to primary care; we're also integrating it with education because it's inside a high school."

The clinic will open no later than May 19, said Aguilar, pending some final permit approval and paperwork.

Fremont Wellness Center will offer primary care – including family planning, prenatal care, vaccinations and testing for sexually transmitted diseases – along with mental health services. One room in the center will become a dental exam room once UMMA and its partners fundraise enough money to buy the necessary equipment, like the chairs and X-ray machines.

All will be free or low-cost to patients, depending on their level of need.

According to UMMA, among Fremont High School's population of around 4,600 students, 1 in 3 is obese, 1 in 30 will develop type 2 diabetes before graduating and about 1 in 7 girls will contract an STD before turning 20.

The community garden, which is the result of a partnership with the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, includes lemon trees, pomegranate trees, fig trees and an herbal garden. Sections of the land are also set aside for students and community members to plant their own crops. There are also plans to build a greenhouse.

"It's to integrate healthy eating with the clinic function," said Aguilar. "People will be able to grow their own vegetables and fruit."

Fremont Wellness Center is the third such facility opened in the South L.A. area this month; Washington Preparatory High School Wellness Center opened on April 4 and Jordan High School Wellness Center opened a week after that. Dominguez High School Health Center also celebrated its grand opening in late May.

School-based health centers are becoming an increasingly visible part of South L.A. health advocates' strategy to providing the underserved with access to health care. That's in part because school campuses are so central to so many South L.A. communities; putting a clinic on campus is inserting it into the daily life of locals.

"It gives you the opportunity to intervene at the earliest possible moment in a family's health trajectory," said Jim Mangia, president and CEO of St. John's Well Child and Family Center, in a recent interview. "You're creating a culture of health and you've got a captive audience with which to do that."

For Fremont Wellness Center, Friday was the first of two grand opening ceremonies. On Saturday, an event more geared toward the community will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with food, music, free health screenings and gardening activities. Councilwoman Jan Perry and Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-43) are expected to appear at a program, which will take place from 11 a.m. to noon.

The clinic is located at 7821 S. Avalon Boulevard.

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