Center for Community Health & Wellness

The Center for Community Health and Wellness is a collaborative initiative between Sacred Heart University and a variety of community partners in the Greater Bridgeport area. The Center is designed to assist in the resolution of unmet health care needs of “at risk” populations while promoting the education, service and research goals of the University. Originating in 2001 as the “St. Charles Health and Wellness Center” the center was developed because of the University's desire to become more actively involved in the day-to-day activities of the Bridgeport community and the St. Charles parish's need to respond to the community health requirements of its parishioners.

The original center was located in one of the most culturally diverse and impoverished areas of Bridgeport, Connecticut. As the needs of the community changed the Center was restructured in 2008 to expand health screening services in order to reach a larger population of clients and families. The Center melds the assets of contemporary health care practices with the cultural and traditional health practices of the Greater Bridgeport Community. Faculty and students from Nursing, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and related disciplines work with and learn from a variety of cultural communities and neighborhoods while engaging in clinical and service learning experiences that provide health education, screening and promotion programs.

Mission Summary

The Sacred Heart University Center for Community Health & Wellness is a collaborative initiative designed to meet the unmet health and wellness needs of the Greater Bridgeport Community while promoting the education, service and research goals of the University.

The Center melds the assets of contemporary health care practices with faith based, cultural and traditional health practices of the community.

The Center for Health and Wellness is an interdisciplinary endeavor of students and faculty in the College of Health Professions at Sacred Heart University.  The Center will provide an opportunity for clinical service-learning and student internship experiences while promoting the health of the community.

Students from Physical TherapyAthletic TrainingExercise ScienceOccupational Therapy and related disciplines will work with and learn from the cultural communities of Greater Bridgeport and neighborhood residents.

The Center's Four Key Goals:

  • Develop and implement community-based health education, promotion and screening programs
  • Provide community-based clinical, service-learning and student internships that investigate the relationships among spirituality, social justice, diversity and well being.
  • Foster faculty knowledge and skill in community-based Nursing, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and related health discipline practice.
  • Create opportunities for research and scholarship by Sacred Heart University faculty, students and community partners. 

To date, a variety of different projects and programs have addressed the key goals of the Center.

A sampling of these activities include:

  • Aging with Grace Program
    A weekly health screening, health education and nutrition program for elderly clients residing on the East side of Bridgeport. Approximately 30 clients participate each week for a morning of planned educational activities and socialization.

  • Latino Elderly Access Points Initiative Program
    A federally funded project sponsored by the Southwestern Connecticut Agency on Aging and conducted in collaboration with Optimus Health Care Center and Southwest Community Health Center.  It is an interdisciplinary health promotion project designed to recruit community dwelling individuals, age 60 years or older to obtain health screening and diabetes risk factor analysis from nursing students and faculty.

  • Asthma ELF Program
    A weekly asthma education program for children at the McGivney Center

  • Kindergarten Readiness Program
    This pediatric developmental screening program is conducted by Physical Therapy students and faculty at the  Mercy Learning Center

  • Journey for Control Program
    An interactive diabetes education program developed on collaboration with Merck Pharmaceuticals

  • Emergency Preparedness Education

  • Mobile Health Screening

  • Health Fairs at Urban Center and Mercy Learning Center

  • Needs Assessment Projects by Occupational Therapy students

  • Fit Kids Program

  • Fairfield Firefighters Health Promotion Program

  • Project Homeless Connect

Faculty Scholarship Awards

Dr. Linda Strong

  • Outstanding Volunteer award from the New England Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), 2011
  • Healthcare Hero for Greater New Haven in the Community Service category, 2011
  • Nightingale Excellence in Nursing Award, 2011
  • Dean’s Service Award Co-Director of St. Charles Health & Wellness Center 2007
  • State of Connecticut Community-Campus Recognition Award 2003

Dr. Susan DeNisco

  • Connecticut Nurses Association, Diamond Jubilee Award: Josephine A. Dolan Award for Outstanding Contributions to Nursing Education 2010
  • National Nursing Center Consortium Primary Care Champion Award 2009
  • American Academy of Nurse Practitioners State of CT Award for Excellence 2007

Dr. Micheal Emery

  • Lucy Blair Service , Award from the American Physical Therapy Association
  • Pope John XXIII Award for Campus Leadership 2001


DeNisco, S. (2011). Exploring the relationship between resilience and diabetes outcomes in African Americans

Strong, L.L., Bowers, D.M., Johnson, M.E., Alaimo, N., Colon, L. & Clinton-Briley, A.L. (2005). Aging with Grace: Envejeciendo con Gracia.  Puerto Rican Health Sciences Journal

Emery, M.J., Strong, L.L., Bowers, B.M., Johnson, M.E. (2005). The Establishment of Multicultural and Interdisciplinary Wellness Center through University Community Partnerships. Puerto Rican Health Sciences Journal

Fein, B.D. & Strong, L.L. (2004). Cardiovascular Risk: Prevalence and Implications of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in Inner City Latino Adults. Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapy Journal, 14(4):40


DeNisco, S., Burger, S., Latino Elderly Access Points Initiative Program: Creating Timely, Equitable Access to Health Screening Services, National Nursing Center Consortium Conference, Philadelphia 2009  

DeNisco, S, Strong, L., Emery, M, A Model of Engaged Learning: Sacred Heart University/St. Charles Health & Wellness Center, Northeast Regioganl Community Compact Conference, Amherst MA, 2008

Bowers, D.M., Fein, B.D. & Strong, L.L. Preparing Students for Culturally Competent    Healthcare Practice, American Physical Therapy Association Meeting, Nashville, 2004 

Bowers, D.M., “Exercise Habits of Middle School Children with and without Asthma” Tri-State Physical Therapy Conference, 2001  


DeNisco, S., Impact of a Medication Management Program on Adherence and Resilience in Community Dwelling Elders, 2011

Price, A., Milner, K. Health Behaviors after Cardiovascular Rehabilitation, 2012

Center for Community Health and Wellness Faculty Team Members

Patricia W. Walker, EdD
Dean of the College of Health Professions

Dr. Susan DeNisco DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, CNE, CNL
Executive Director
Associate Professor of Nursing, Director of Graduate Programs

Eilene Bertsch
Community Advisory
Board Member

Wendy Bjerke, MS
Firefighter’s Wellness Program 
Clinical Assistant Professor of Exercise Science

Donna Bowers, PT,PCS, MPH, Clinical
Asthma ELF Program & Pediatric Developmental 
Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy

Michelle A. Cole, RN, MSN, DNP
Instructor of Nursing

Elizabeth Cross, BA
Graduate Program Administrator Nursing
Assistant to Elderly Latino Access Points Initiative Program

Constance Glenn, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC
Clinical Assistant Professor

Mary Ellen Johnson, MHSM, OTR/L
Needs Assessment 
Clinical Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy

Kerry A. Milner, DNSc, RN
Associate Professor of Nursing
SHU-WELL living and learning community
Project Homeless Connect

Anna E. Price, PhD, CHES, HFS
Assistant Professor, Exercise Science Program
Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Science
SHU-WELL living and learning community

Nina Pearlin, BSN, RN, MA 
Adjunct Professor of Nursing
Latino Elderly Access Points Initiative Program

Linda Strong, Ed.D., RN
Director RN to BSN Program
Director, Aging with Grace Program
Director, Mobile Health Screening Program
Program Director, Student Medical Reserve Corps (SMRC)
Assistant Professor of Nursing

Community Partners

  • Optimus Health Care
  • Southwest Community Health Center
  • Alpha Community Services
  • Hall Neighborhood House 
  • Mercy Learning Center
  • Bridgeport Public Health Department
  • McGivney Center
  • Southwestern Connecticut Agency & Aging