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Group of people celebrates anniversary event surrounded by balloons

BDNC Director Laron Taylor (fifth from left), BCBSIL President Stephen Harris (fourth from right) and colleagues celebrate the five-year anniversary of Chicago's Pullman location. 

Blue Door Neighborhood Center Celebrates 5 Years

Five years ago Nell Walker started dropping by the Blue Door Neighborhood CenterSM in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood to play bingo and participate in free activities. After the first of three strokes, she says, BDNC’s Zumba, yoga and line dancing programs became key to her recovery.

“I couldn’t do all of the exercises at first, but Blue Door helped me take my time and didn’t mind me sitting on the sidelines,” she says. “They showed me low-impact exercises and helped build my strength to get me back to my usual activities — now you wouldn’t know that I’ve had strokes.”

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois is celebrating the five-year anniversary of supporting health and wellness in communities with the BDNC program, which started in Pullman in April 2019 and expanded to Morgan Park and South Lawndale in 2020.

Community members and BCBSIL employees celebrated the milestone with an event at the Pullman BDNC.

“I’m extremely proud of the Blue Door Neighborhood Center’s success and how it’s grown over these five years, but I’m most impressed by the community response,” says BDNC Director Laron Taylor. “We can place a center in any Chicago neighborhood but if community members don’t participate and engage it doesn’t mean much.”

Women pose for camera holding certificates

Nell Walker (middle) at the Pullman BDNC celebrating the five-year anniversary of its opening.

Community first

BCBSIL chose Pullman as the first BDNC site because data revealed it ranked near the bottom among Chicago neighborhoods on social and economic factors that influence health — such as education, housing and unemployment. Outreach teams worked with local religious institutions, community organizations, chambers of commerce and residents to hold listening sessions and tailor programming to community needs.

“They wanted safe, welcoming spaces to participate in programs such as job readiness and financial literacy seminars,” Taylor says. “Community members were seeking spaces where they could enhance health literacy and improve their overall health.”

Today, BDNC offers no-cost fitness and line dancing classes, housing and employment seminars, and programs to improve physical, mental and social wellbeing, among many other offerings. The centers function as wellness hubs for everyone in the community, not just BCBSIL members. 

Brick community health center

BCBSIL's Blue Door Neighborhood Center in Pullman opened in April 2019.

For Michael Martin, Blue Door Neighborhood Center started as a place for his mother to participate in occasional activities but quickly turned into weekly visits.

“My favorite part of visiting these centers is the staff,” he says. “I’m here pretty much Monday through Friday and it’s like visiting with family. You’re greeted warmly, you’re welcome and I always look forward to visiting.”

The BDNC locations have recorded more than 73,000 visits and hosted more than 5,500 events.

"Blue Door’s mission is simple but impactful: We work hand-in-hand with the community to provide access to whole-person health and resources for long-term wellness," BCBSIL President Stephen Harris said at the anniversary event. 

The trust developed through community-level relationships helped BDNC launch a three-year colorectal cancer screening initiative in October 2022. To date, they’ve distributed free Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) kits, and nearly 500 have been completed.

Women unload fruits and vegetables from basket

Fresh fruits and vegetables were provided at a block party hosted at the South Lawndale Blue Door Neighborhood Center. 

BDNC partners with more than 100 local organizations such as Dion’s Chicago Dream and T. Castro Produce, which recently teamed up to install a food locker at BDNC Morgan Park that provides residents easy access to fresh food.

More than 20,000 food boxes or bags have been handed out at farmers markets and other BDNC events since the program launched in 2021.

Last year, Blue Door Neighborhood Center teamed up with NASCAR to host health and wellness events leading up to the inaugural NASCAR Chicago Street Race Weekend and constructed a pop-up site at the street race.

BDNC employees handed out bags of sunscreen and ear plugs, and race fans played games and received health and wellness education from employees. The pop-up also served as a shelter for groups of people seeking relief from stifling heat and downpours throughout the weekend.

BDNC is planning to have a presence during this summer’s NASCAR Chicago Street Race Weekend taking place July 6 and 7. BCBSIL is a founding partner of the street race.

Crowd walks in city near outdoor neighborhood center during event

The pop-up site was constructed near the NASCAR Chicago Street Race Weekend race track and provided a glimpse of the resources provided at BDNC locations.

A trusted partner

As BDNC continues to expand and evolve, maintaining an open dialogue with Chicago communities remains central to its success, says Taylor.

“We are now a trusted community staple and hub,” he says. “It took time and work to develop. Not just investment but building relationships. We still lean on our communities to provide feedback and let us know what we need to do to improve. We never take that constant communication for granted.”

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, a Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association