Featured photo: Residents get their blood pressure checked at a health fair hosted at Crystal Towers. (photo by Gale Melcher)

Last week, a health fair with more than a dozen entities filled the first floor of Crystal Towers, Winston-Salem’s 11-story low-income highrise that is home to nearly 200 residents. The building hit the city’s skyline in the early 1970s. Along with age has come years of malfunctioning elevators, poor living conditions, pest infestations and leaky laundry facilities. 

The Housing Authority of Winston-Salem, which owns and manages Crystal Towers, has recently ramped up efforts to tackle the building’s woes. They renovated the lobby, are closing in on modernizing the first of two elevators and relocating laundry services to the first floor.

Crystal Towers (photo by Gale Melcher)

Many residents are elderly and disabled, so they can’t get around very easily. This clinic brought the services to them. Resident Michael Douglas and Crystal Towers United, the building’s tenant activism organization, had been planning and putting the event’s pieces together for months. 

On Nov. 29 their hard work paid off, big time.

Balloons guided visitors to the vendors. The room buzzed with residents and staff members.

In an interview with Triad City Beat, Douglas said he was thankful to the building’s assistant manager Regina Barnes. 

“She was the one that gave me the idea,” he said, adding that Barnes “shows a penchant for addressing people’s needs.” Douglas was also “so grateful” to Shontell Robinson, Forsyth County’s deputy county manager, who was instrumental in organizing the event.

The health fair hosted more than a dozen different entities such as Forsyth County Government, county emergency services as well as the county’s public health department with pharmaceutical and men’s health services.

“The county showed up and showed out,” Douglas said. “It was just awesome.” 

Residents attend at a health fair hosted at Crystal Towers. (photo by Gale Melcher)

Other vendors included East Carolina University School of Dentistry, Preventative Dental Health, Novant Health, United Healthcare, Community Nutritionist, Forsyth Regional Opioid & Substance Use Team (FROST) and Preventing Ongoing Spread of STIs Everywhere (POSSE). Digital Bridges Forsyth helped set residents up for digital success while Twin City Harm Reduction Collective handed out resources to help prevent and address drug overdoses such as fentanyl and xylazine test strips, Narcan and more. One vendor offered free flu and COVID-19 vaccinations, serving patients within minutes. Another vendor took their blood pressure.

Samuel Grier is a longtime resident of the building and serves as the president of Crystal Towers United. 

“I went around to each table and got a little bit of everything,” Grier told TCB, chuckling as he added, “I had so much in my hands that I had to get a bag.”

Resident Samuel Grier attends at a health fair hosted at Crystal Towers. (photo by Gale Melcher)

Resident Marion Brunson said she got in touch with dental services.

“That’s what I came here for,” Brunson said. But she ended up getting so much more out of the event. She was able to talk with a representative with United Healthcare — her service provider. And she was able to talk to someone about food stamps. She also got a free medicine lockbox, Narcan and dental care products.

“People ain’t looking for a handout, but they are looking for a hand up,” Douglas said.

Next year, Douglas will run for the city council seat in the Northwest Ward.

“This is what I want to do as an elected official,” Douglas said, continuing: “I can’t sit on the sidelines and watch things get worse. I’ve got to get myself in the fight.”

Michael Douglas, who is running for city council, helped organize the health fair that took place at Crystal Towers. (photo by Gale Melcher)

“What can we do next?” That’s the question on Douglas’s mind now.

Douglas said they’re hoping to host the health fair again — and at more locations than just Crystal Towers. Douglas hopes to see this “across the city, across the county; in areas where people need to be seen, be felt and be heard.” The next one will be held “as soon as all parties can be included.”

“I’m glad things went off as smoothly as it did because we had a very good turnout,” Douglas said. But Douglas noted that there was one thing missing from the fair.

“Trust from the community,” he said.

Some residents were “leery to come and participate,” Douglas explained, “because the trust level is not there.”

“They’ve been left out so long,” he said.

Crystal Towers (photo by Gale Melcher)

But the droves of service providers who showed up changed some residents’ minds. Providers “encouraged so many people, they showed they care.”

“People got some things that they needed, and the trust factor was established.”

“So many people overlook people that are in low economic situations and are in low-income housing,” Douglas said. But on Wednesday, they “were not overlooked.”

“We know that we were seen,” Douglas said.

Read our previous reporting on Crystal Towers here.

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