Creating Community and Connection

Since opening its doors in 2017, the Uptown Hub has helped more than 1,000 adolescents and young adults from the Washington Heights and Inwood communities by offering support, mentorship, and a place to form friendships.

The leadership team at the Uptown Hub provides support services, activities, and opportunities for members.

The leadership team at the Uptown Hub provides support services, activities, and opportunities for members.

During her second semester of college in 2020, Chisom Onukaogu began to feel overwhelmed. She was struggling to balance her academics, extracurricular activities, and commitments to family and friends.

In need of advice, she turned to a familiar place — her “chosen family” in Washington Heights at the Uptown Hub.

“My youth advocate at the Uptown Hub, Athena Matos, helped me create a schedule to organize a time for everything, but specifically made sure there was time for myself — to walk around a park, to breathe,” recalls Chisom, 20. “Having a schedule helped me a lot.”

That guidance was just one example of how the Uptown Hub has helped Chisom manage the demands of life.

“The staff have given me support and guidance, and have helped me succeed not just academically and professionally but emotionally,” she says.

The Uptown Hub, also known as the Hub, is a community space on West 168th Street in Washington Heights. It opened its doors in October 2017 after NewYork-Presbyterian, in collaboration with Columbia University Irving Medical Center, received a $10.3 million grant from the Manhattan District Attorney of New York’s Criminal Justice Investment Initiative. The goal was to establish a place in the neighborhood where youth and young adults could have access to support services, activities, and opportunities.

Since 2017, the Uptown Hub has provided a safe space to more than 1,000 members between ages 14 and 24. The Hub, which works in partnership with several community-based organizations in the area, is a home base for them to meet friends, connect with mentors, and participate in fun activities, including painting, playing video games, and watching movies. Members also have access to free services and resources as they navigate their future, are provided with one-on-one support from one of the Hub’s four youth advocates, and can speak with three psychologists who are on-site.

“It is remarkable to think that almost six years have passed since we accepted our first member at the Hub, and how we have grown exponentially,” says Davina Vaswani Prabhu, vice president of the Ambulatory Care Network at NewYork-Presbyterian’s Division of Community and Population Health.

“The community space is brightly lit, decorated with artwork created by the members, and filled with big-screen TVs where they watch movies or play video games,” adds Prabhu. “It is a space where young people can learn, share ideas, receive services, hang out, and just be themselves.”

A Strong Support Team

At the Uptown Hub, youth advocates meet with members regularly to assess their needs and interests; provide them with individualized, ongoing support; and connect them to services within the Hub or with community partners.

When Enzo Rodriguez joined the Hub in December 2018, he needed support studying for the GED exam. “The Hub helped me through that journey,” Rodriguez, now 27, recalls. “I learned how to improve my studying skills, especially for math and social studies. It helped me during my first try on the exam, and then I graduated.”

“We can help our youth with anything from studying, resuming work, interviewing, helping them apply for school, completing a passport application, and enrolling them into financial aid for college,” says Matos about the youth advocate role. “As advocates, we are helping them learn how to be adults.”

For Chisom, the Hub has been a resource as she makes choices about her future career. “I spoke with Athena, and she helped me navigate the options,” she says. “Athena suggested, ‘Look online for medical fields that align with you. We could do it together.’” This guidance gave Chisom a better “understanding of what I wanted to do.”

Youth advocate Lenox Cedeño, who has been at the Uptown Hub since October 2021, says that sometimes the job is as simple as just being present for a member. “I was sitting on a Zoom call with a member, and they were filling out their financial aid form,” says Cedeño. “He took a deep breath and said, ‘Thank you — I knew I needed to do this, but all I needed was that presence of someone being there.’”

“Our Hub team members are ardent advocates of youths,” says Prabhu. “The team is simply unwavering in their commitment to providing each young adult who walks through our doors the most compassionate care.”

Programs to Help Prepare for the Future

Every Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., the Uptown Hub hosts various workshops and clubs that focus on youth development, health and wellness, employment readiness, and arts and recreation.

The programs are planned around what the members want. “We have a youth council that typically starts to meet in October and work together for a year,” says Luis Acevedo, a program coordinator at the Hub. “They help us plan for programs they want to have and programs that their friends want. All the needs that they express to us we put into action through programming, events where they can socialize.”

Planning for professional events is also driven by ideas from youth, says program coordinator Nelson Yu. “We help generate training opportunities to get members ready for real-world applications, to look for work, find careers, and create opportunities within the hospital or the Hub in terms of internships. The focus is meeting youth and young adults where they are.”

Richard Lopez, the Hub’s program manager, says that the Uptown Hub has placed about 500 youth with internships. “The vast majority of members have been placed throughout NewYork-Presbyterian,” he says.

“Our Hub team members are ardent advocates of youths. The team is simply unwavering in their commitment to providing each young adult who walks through our doors the most compassionate care.”

— Davina Vaswani Prabhu

Chisom was placed as an intern at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital’s labor and delivery suite, as well as with after-delivery services, where she worked with physician assistants and nurses. “The experience made me fall in love with obstetrics and gynecology,” she says.

A vivid memory during the internship for Chisom was being in the operating room, where she saw a cesarean section. “It’s fascinating to see a baby being born,” says Chisom, who is now studying to become a physician assistant.

The Hub also places members with creative, project-based internships in writing, technology, filmmaking, and music production. “We have an acting internship in partnership with The People’s Theatre Project, for example, where 12 of our members recently spent 10 weeks creating a performance and rehearsing,” says Lopez. “The ensemble cast put together a series of monologues that spoke about culture and identity; they named it the Butterfly Showcase.”

Rodriguez, who participated in the career development workshops as a member and now works at the Hub, says that to this day, he remembers the kindness of the staff when he was a member and the difference it made for him.

“I learned that it always helps to bring a smile,” he says. “I hope members today feel the same when we say hi and ask how they’re doing. If they need anything, we try our best to help them.”

“What stands out about the Hub for me the most is the support and comfort,” says Chisom. “You don’t get that everywhere. And I know there are a lot of people in general that need that support. They need to feel like it’s a safe space to talk, to feel OK, and be themselves.”

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