BY VICTOR PORCELLI
SUNSET PARK — Sunset Park residents received free school supplies, dental screenings and face paintings from NYU Langone Health at a back-to-school event on Wednesday.
At Martin Luther Playground, right across from NYU Langone Hospital – Brooklyn, hundreds of families flocked to receive everything they need before the school year starts. The event was timed to occur during National Health Center Week, which celebrates federally qualified health centers across the country.
With around 60 sites in New York City, NYU Langone’s Family Health Centers serve most of southwest Brooklyn. The centers run more than 40 school-based programs and eight primary care sites, according to Executive Director of the centers Larry McReynolds.
With the mission of increasing access to care in marginalized or hard-to-reach populations, the centers partnered with Empire BlueCross BlueShield HealthPlus and a variety of community programs on Wednesday.
More than 1,600 backpacks filled with pens, pencils, a notebook, a folder and more were handed out. Dental screenings, a tooth-brushing presentation and vaccinations were also provided by the health center.
“We want to make sure that kids are ready to go back to school physically, mentally, financially and also have the supplies to be successful when the new school year starts,” McReynolds told the Brooklyn Reporter.
McReynolds said that National Health Center Week is held purposefully around the same time as kids get ready to head back to school because children are required to complete physicals anyway at the beginning of the school year.
Cynthia Felix, a board member of the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone, said that she feels the timing couldn’t be better.
“It’s a great week to do it because a lot of parents are anxious about back-to-school and how to pay for their supplies,” Felix told the Brooklyn Reporter. “This gives them the opportunity to get everything done before school begins and they don’t have that anxiety. Their kids go back to school confident that they have their supplies and the parents go back to school confident that their kids are healthy and ready to conquer school.”
This year, in particular, there have been policy changes that may affect the communities the centers serve, McReynolds said. He cited cuts to Medicaid, immigration policies and the recent removal of the religious exemption for vaccinations.
He said that the back-to-school event was meant not only to inform community members and guide them through the changes, but also serve as a reminder of the resources the health center provides.
“Given all of the things that are going on in the community … the health center is here for you regardless,” McReynolds said. “Regardless of ability to pay, regardless of language, regardless of insurance coverage, we’re here for you over the long haul.”