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Director hired for VCU and VCU Health System’s East End health education and wellness center


A health education and wellness center planned for Richmond’s East End, a collaboration between Virginia Commonwealth University and VCU Health System, has hired its first site director. Natalie Pennywell, a former state health official, will lead the 5,600-square-foot facility slated to open in March 2019 under its new name, “VCU Health Hub at 25th.”

Pennywell joins VCU from the Virginia Department of Health where she led community outreach efforts for the Division of Community Nutrition across the state. Drawing from over a decade of experience in community outreach and health education, Pennywell will oversee the health and wellness programs and projects at VCU Health Hub at 25th, with a focus on building strong partnerships to increase access to preventative care and health education for East End area residents.

“This is an amazing opportunity to build a supportive, sustainable and impactful community health model that incorporates community, university and health system voices at every level,” Pennywell said. “Our vision for the VCU Health Hub is to become a trusted resource for preventative care and wellness in the greater East End community that honors the history and impact of the community while welcoming innovation from all residents. The VCU Health Hub is built around listening and adapting to community needs, so our services will evolve as the needs of the community change.”

Located at the intersection of Nine Mile Road and North 25th Street, the VCU Health Hub at 25th is a community engagement initiative led by VCU and VCU Health System that supports their shared vision of enhancing health and well-being. Interdisciplinary teams of VCU faculty and students will offer programs at the center, including health screenings, nutrition counseling, behavioral health support, chronic disease management and health education.

In addition to offering screenings and counseling, the VCU Health Hub at 25th will connect residents with community providers and help with care coordination, as well as provide access to space for community events, fitness activities and educational programs.

Led jointly by VCU’s Center for Urban Communities and VCU Health System’s Office of Health Innovation, the center will feature health education spaces, consult rooms, a community room, student and faculty space, and parking.

Unfortunately, there are still too many East End residents dying too early and too often from preventable or treatable health conditions,” said Cynthia Newbille, councilwoman for Richmond’s 7th District. “However, such tragic outcomes will be significantly reduced, with many lives improved and saved as a result of VCU establishing the VCU Health Hub at 25th in the heart of the East End community.”

The center will be located in the same building as a larger redevelopment initiative that features apartments and The Market @ 25th grocery store, also set to open in March 2019. VCU Health Hub at 25th will work collaboratively with The Market @ 25th to increase access to nutrition services and encourage customers to make healthy choices. It will also complement existing and forthcoming health and wellness services in Richmond’s East End area that include Bon Secours’ Sarah Garland Jones Center, the Richmond City Health District, and the Kitchens at Reynolds, a culinary institute operated by Reynolds Community College.

“According to the county health rankings model, clinical care is only responsible for 20 percent of health outcomes,” said Sheryl Garland, chief of health impact at VCU Health. “Working alongside our community partners, the health hub will play a significant role in increasing education and awareness around many of the health conditions that are prevalent in residents in the East End, and how we can prevent them.”

Over the next 90 days, Pennywell will engage with East End community leaders, residents and key stakeholders from VCU and VCU Health to inform the programming of VCU Health Hub at 25th.

“Success is effectively matching VCU’s available tools and resources with the East End area’s health priorities and educational needs,” Pennywell said.