Alonzo Hill is one of the community organizers leading an intervention effort in the neighborhood. Hill founded Zolingo’s Spice for Life with a mission to care for others following a Crohn’s disease diagnosis that changed the course of his life. After coming close to death from the impacts of the disease, Hill — a former engineer — took big steps to seek a healthier lifestyle, dedicating his life to becoming a health and nutrition specialist.
Looking for solutions through research and nutrition courses, Hill discovered that many ailments can be healed or prevented by simple personally-tailored nutritional practices.
Wanting to share this vital information, Alonzo developed Zolingo’s Spice for Life.
“I like to tell people that health is wealth, and the food you eat is the currency,” said Hill. “Some foods are ‘life healers,’ while others are ‘life stealers.’”
This notion is especially important to populations with limited access to food, much less nutritious food.
Hill partnered with three UNC Charlotte graduate researchers to develop a food nutrition educational program tailored to the community’s needs designed to not only teach but show how to shop, cook and eat healthy.
“The program we implemented in the Family Zone community would not have been possible without the support from UNC Charlotte and the amazing team of people they have,” said Hill. “They took my passion and truly brought it to life, employing public health best practices, developing curriculum tailor-made for the community members and measuring the success of the program that provided me with real-world outcomes and directions for future iterations of this program in other communities.”
Students in the UCITY Family Zone facing housing insecurity shoulder the burden of challenges that go beyond learning course material. For many, a healthy meal, a safe place to study and support with learning outside the classroom are inaccessible. That’s where the Learning Lab comes in. Started at Northside Baptist Church in October 2020 in cooperation with nine other organizations, the Lab provides free academic enrichment, fitness activities and breakfast, lunch, and a snack daily for a group of middle and high school students in need in the UCITY Family Zone. The program was a response to the need for remote learning support during COVID-19 and will transition to a summer camp while school is out thanks to funding from the United Way and Safe Charlotte.
“We want to make sure they’re reading and they’re having fun,” said Leroy Wray, director of the Prodigal Son Foundation and education lead for UCITY Family Zone.
The ability to coordinate services from multiple organizations is a strength of the Learning Lab and a benefit to its students.
“UCITY Family Zone ‘organizes organizations’ so we’re not competing against one another. We’re working toward the same goal, and we can do so much more when we work together," Wray said.
The UCity Family Zone Community Ambassador Program supports 500 local residents with counseling, referrals related to employment, income, housing, and other social resources.
Luly Mendez has been a dedicated parent volunteer and community resource at Hidden Valley Elementary School for more than five years. When the site coordinator for Communities in Schools (CIS) at the school told her about the opportunity to be the first community ambassador for the UCity Family Zone she jumped at the chance.
For the last five months, Mendez has been a committed community advocate for the residents of Wooden Hollow Apartments. She has connected dozens of families with utility and rental assistance, offered translation services and hands-on case management between families and countless other community organizations, including Crisis Assistance Ministry, Loaves and Fishes, and local church ministries.