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Gardening in Malcolm X Park. Urban hikes led by young women. Mental health information distributed in barber shops and salons. Language classes that center around bike rides.

All of these ideas are on the brink of becoming reality. Along with a dozen other concepts to bring health and wellness to Philly millennials, the groups behind them have been selected as finalists in the Well City Challenge — which means they could win thousands in cash to pilot their idea.

Compared to Gen X and Boomers before them, the millennial generation in the U.S. is not in great shape when it comes to health. That’s the takeaway of a 2019 study by Blue Cross affiliates around the nation that found elevated rates of physical and mental illnesses in people born between 1981 and 1996. In some cases, like substance abuse, Philadelphia has worse numbers than elsewhere.

So the Economy League, a local think-tank nonprofit that’s been around more than a century, partnered with Independence Blue Cross to find out what new solutions the Philly community might think up.

The Well City Challenge call for ideas brought in more than 100 applications from 51 ZIP codes around the region. A selection committee chose the 15 proposals with the most potential, five in each of three categories.

All of the finalists will attend a virtual social impact incubator, where they’ll be paired with mentors and experts to help refine their ideas. Then they’ll contend for more than $50k in seed funding at a pitch competition in early 2021.

Here’s a peek at the interesting programs and projects vying for the prize. (Descriptions come from the concept creators.)

Community and Social Connection

Solutions to wellness that use technology and social media or outdoor activities compliant with COVID-safe distancing.

Hey, Auntie!

A virtual multigenerational matching service for millennial women and more seasoned women to discuss love, work, life, and everything in between.


A women’s hiking hive offering healing hikes to increase overall wellness: physically, mentally and spiritually in Philadelphia.

Let’s Talk Philly

A project that offers immigrant millennials a space to learn English conversation skills, develop social capital, and tell their stories to break stereotypes, prejudice and increase understanding about immigrant wellness. The project will run in partnership with The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians.

Mind Your Art

A program that connects community members to the healing benefits of hands-on art-making as a means to build connections, reduce isolation, and improve overall well-being for millennials. The project is a collaboration between Fleisher Art Memorial and Juntos.

HERO Group Health Coaching

A program that supports people to make self-directed, lasting health and behavioral changes by increasing the psychological capital they bring to life circumstances through pro bono group health coaching.

Food and Nutrition

Collaborative, community-oriented ventures that capitalize on the intimate relationship between food and health.

B.G.H. (Brain Gut Heart) Wellness

A food therapy program that provides an open space to talk about mental health, teaches cooking, and reinforces the importance of food on the brain, the gut and the heart.

Land-based Jawns

A spiritually-rooted organization offering education and training to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) women on natural agriculture, food sovereignty, survival, carpentry, and community healing guided by skills and lessons highlighted in Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower” series.

Philly Food Therapy

A program that provides an inclusive, holistic healthy food experience by bringing together local farms, healthy ingredients, and physical activity to cook a meal and give millennials a tool that they can take into their own kitchens.

Freedom Greens & Gardens

A project that reimagines Malcolm X Park and surrounding blocks as a destination for wellness within the heart of West Philadelphia by providing space, community and ongoing opportunities for millennials to be well and to thrive.

The Welcome Spot: Interfaith Connection, Coffee, and Conversation

A storefront in South Philly uses hyper-local and existing faith communities to develop community programming and create space for millennials to connect over excellent coffee.


Because engagement in physical activity and mindfulness are closely tied to physical health.

Philly’s Big Breath

An effort that encourages everyone, especially Black and brown millennials, to take a big deep breath, as a very personal act of trauma healing — and as a public proclamation of fight to protect our right to heal.

Racial Healing & Mindful Transformation in Asian American Community

An initiative to create a space for Asian American millennials to heal from racial trauma through virtual forums promoting a wellness framework of mindfulness, resilience, self-compassion, and social support.

Shear Balance

A program to bring mental health awareness to beauty salons and barber shops through providing knowledge about mental health and wellness.


A running and jogging training program that encourages millennials to prioritize their long term mental and physical health.


A program from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia that will provide immigrant, refugee, and underrepresented millennials throughout Greater Philadelphia and South Jersey with virtual bicycle education classes and socially distanced community rides led by bilingual and multilingual instructors.

Danya Henninger is director and editor of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation, including the membership program. She is a former food and...