c. Elizabeth Keegin Colley

Alliance Launches Open Air Care Connections

March 26, 2024

Prospect Park Alliance and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene have announced the launch of a pilot program, Open Air Care Connections, which seeks to remove the stigma around mental healthcare through community health outreach, events and educational programs. Through the pilot, community health workers provided by housing nonprofit Neighborhood Housing Services of Brooklyn (NHS Brooklyn), will be placed at key locations in the park and embedded into Alliance events and public programs to address mental health needs of our community.

Coming out of the COVID pandemic, mental healthcare is one of the primary needs of New York City residents, yet one that often goes untreated. According to an opinion poll by The Health Department, nearly 25% of all New Yorkers identified experiencing anxiety, and nearly 18% experiencing depression. Nearly 50% of those who expressed needing mental health support felt that they did not know did not know where to go to get services or how to access them. Time spent in nature is proven to reduce stress, relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, and boost cognition, attention and sleep quality. Green spaces also give communities vital places to gather: strengthening social ties and lessening isolation.

Through this pilot program, which will run through June 30, 2024, The Health Department and the Alliance seek to address mental health and well-being through education and coping skill-building; and creating a pathway for quality care through assessment, intervention and direct referrals to mental and physical health services. Among the reasons that those who experience anxiety and depression do not seek treatment is the stigmatization of mental health concerns, as well as concerns about cost and access to care. The program focuses on addressing these barriers while leveraging the benefits of the natural environment. The program will engage park-goers to assess their social needs and provide direct referrals to find support for emotional health, substance use, physical health, housing, career, education and food-access concerns.

“When it comes to mental health resources, we must meet people where they are,” said New York City Mayor Eric Adams. “Our parks and green spaces are a haven for millions of New Yorkers and by offering mental health support through this new pilot program, we’ll connect even more New Yorkers with the services and care they need.”

“Parks are a hub for activity whether you’re taking a stroll in the evening, spending an afternoon with your partner and children, and so many more ways New Yorkers utilize parks. This is especially true for Brooklynites and Prospect Park,” said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Ann Williams-Isom. “This partnership helps us meet people where they are to engage them in a way to support their and their families’ mental health needs. We know that mental health is a lifelong journey and this initiative adds to the avenues of support and options available to New Yorkers.”

“In recent years it has become more clear than ever before how essential Prospect Park is for the health and well-being of the diverse communities that call Brooklyn home,” said Prospect Park Alliance President and Park Administrator Morgan Monaco. “Prospect Park is a place of comfort and healing to so many, and the pandemic illustrated how important access to quality health care is and how far we have to go to ensure everyone has access. There is widespread evidence of the health benefits that come from being in nature, and being able to offer park-goers direct wellness support and resources here in Brooklyn’s Backyard is crucial to help our community go from surviving to thriving. We thank the New York City Health Department and Neighborhood Housing Services of Brooklyn for their partnership to address barriers of entry and establish connections between our green space and access to much needed social, health and wellness services.”

“Crises like serious illness, job loss, or the death of a family member can so destabilize a family’s finances that they lose their home. Our mission at NHS Brooklyn is to stabilize our community by helping our neighbors keep their home. That’s why Open Air Care Connections is such an exciting initiative for us. By connecting residents to services and programs, we’ll help them to not only avoid personal, financial, and health disasters. We’ll help them thrive.” said Chief Executive Officer, Neighborhood Housing Services of Brooklyn, Tonya Ores.

“Parks do so much for our mental health and wellbeing,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan. “This partnership will help us turn beloved parks into pathways for support. It will also start an important public conversation about mental health, which for too long has been stigmatized, shamed and marginalized. It is time to bring this work into the open.”

“Our public parks and greenspaces are vital for New Yorkers’ mental and physical wellbeing, offering spaces for relaxation, community, and connection with nature. Now, thanks to this initiative, visitors to Prospect Park will be able to directly access mental health resources, right in Brooklyn’s Backyard,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue. “This new program is a great complement to our Let’s Green NYC initiative, which seeks to combat the nationwide epidemic of loneliness and foster connections between communities through volunteerism. I’m so grateful to our partners at the Prospect Park Alliance and the Health Department for this great collaboration.”

Community health workers will leverage the park and its natural setting to engage park patrons to discuss mental health and well-being, starting at the LeFrak Center at Lakeside in March 1-2 days a week, with the aim of fostering compassionate and engaging interactions with patrons, and promptly linking those with concerns to the necessary support services and resources. In the Spring, the pilot will expand to existing Prospect Park Alliance public programs at the Prospect Park Audubon Center and Lefferts Historic House, where NYC Health experts will help to center these programs in health and well-being. In addition, The Health Department will host special workshops and programs on topics such as the Impact of Racial Trauma on Health and Processing Grief through Gratitude. Lastly, through its partner, Neighborhood Housing Services, the Alliance will provide housing education and expert services at select programs and events.

Learn more about health and wellness in Prospect Park.