Sunday, Aug. 7 could have been just another run-of-the-mill awards event, with rubber chicken meals and paper awards. Instead, the day was filled with poignancy as the Village Health Foundation celebrated the affordable alternative clinic’s 10th anniversary with the Healthy Choices Awards at Jewel’s Catch One in Mid-Wilshire Los Angeles. Among those honored were the Agape Spiritual Center, In the Meantime Men’s Group and Black Women for Wellness.
But the story behind the Village Health Foundation is a story of health and light emerging from the LGBT communities’ darkest days of the AIDS pandemic. It is really about a vision that came in sickness to founder Jewel Thais-Williams.
“I had, and still own, a nightclub—Jewel’s Catch One,” Thais-Williams said during a phone interview. “About year 25, my interest in doing that had waned. Even though I was involved in various charitable—and even was a founding board member—of several organizations, it was still not quite enough for me. I had longed to do some complementary, alternative therapy and bring that to our people. I checked around and the one that came up for me was traditional Chinese medicine.”
Thais-Williams went to acupuncture school to learn about traditional Chinese medicine. “I had always admired the Asian model of community and family. I knew their longevity had probably come from their core of health practices. That meant going to acupuncture school. When I completed it, I was 56 years old. I hadn’t read too many books in years because I was doing the nightclub and business in general. But I finished in four years and got licensed. It’s been 11 years now.”
Jewel described a vision when she was overtaken by serious illness during her last year of training. She was feverish, moving in and out of the darkness and light and she “saw the light” to bring health to the community.
“That message was different than what I had in mind,” Thais-Williams said. “I was going to go into a practice in Beverly Hills or Santa Monica or some place wealthy where I could make funds. Lots of them. I had been a philanthropist for forever, so it was pretty much to earn the money to give it away. But the message came to me, ‘No, you need to offer this in the neighborhood. Make it accessible. Make it affordable. This is where you are supposed to be. That was the message that came back to me from the light—‘Health. Bring it to our people.’”
Jewel started a ‘gypsy’ clinic with her work partner, Chung Hee Yi. “We would go to the AIDS Prevention Team office, which was not too far away, once a week. We could treat patients for eight hours. We did that for about a year. Then the AIDS Prevention Team offices closed. But we had patients who wanted to see us. So we would see them in parking lots of the club. We would go anywhere to treat people. “
Thais-Williams subsequently acquired the building next door to her nightclub. She spent six months reconfiguring that space into a traditional Chinese medical clinic, administered by the non-profit Village Health Foundation.
The Village Health Foundation now offers a wide range of services. They provide not only acupuncture but also mental health services, vitamins, raw herbs, detox from food, drugs and alcohol all with an emphasis on prevention. In addition to offering individual treatment and educational programs, they hold group activities, public lectures, community health festivals, fundraising events and social support seminars such as yoga demonstrations and self-defense classes.
Since its founding, Village Health Foundation has served over 87,000 clients and expanded to include awareness and education events. Recently they were able to establish a relationship with Antioch University to make the foundation a training site for students.
Even more importantly, Thais-Williams says, “We don’t turn people away for lack of coin.”
In response to a growing problem in the foster care system, the foundation is also now addressing the need for young men of color who have been “discounted in the system. We are working with the emancipated kids who are put out on the street at the stroke of midnight on their 18th birthday,” Thais-Williams says. “These youth then go from a foster home to being homeless.“ The providers no longer get financial support, she notes, so they kick the young people out on to the street.
The foundation is putting together a program that can house up to 12 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 who are impacted by this lack of support after their emancipation.
But to do this, the Village Health Foundation needs help from the community. They need floor lamps, small sound systems, acupuncture supplies, knee pillows and a paging system for patients in each exam room and general office supplies. Donations in any amount or form are appreciated. To make a donation, please contact Kristin Parnell at (323) 270-8846. Donations can also be made via secure credit card payment system on the website at villagehealthfoundation.org.