DOWNTOWN — New scientific studies routinely come out suggesting new ways for healthier living, but the gap between what researchers know and how most people live can be a wide one.

Now, a new center started by UCLA in Santa Monica is aiming to bridge the divide by bringing classes and programs based on researchers’ work directly to the community.

Called the UCLA Family Commons, the center offers “family coaching” sessions and “family wellness” check ups to assist with interpersonal issues as well as classes in yoga, martial arts, and mediation.

The goal is to help people live healthier lives by preventing bad physical and emotional habits from taking hold.

Made possible by a $2 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the center is the first of what Director Diane Flannery hopes will be a successful chain of centers across diverse communities.

She said the impetus for the center was the growing body of research that suggests many diseases and even most deaths are preventable. The center, she said, represents a novel approach to bringing knowledge from the university to the neighborhood.

“We had all this science on campus and it wasn’t getting out to the community at all,” she said.

She said UCLA chose Santa Monica for the project because the city was seen as home to a community that would be receptive to the center’s goals.

Programs offered at the center are geared toward helping people make the small changes they need to improve well-being.

“We try to work with families and kids before there are problems,” Flannery said.

After a soft opening over the past month, the center, located at 1221 Second St. in Downtown Santa Monica, held its grand opening on Thursday.

Instructors led kids in martial arts and yoga exercises and Marv Belzer, who teaches a “mindful awareness” class at the center, gave five-minute introductory lessons. An instructor at the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA’s Semel Institute, he said the method he teaches is similar to meditation and has been shown to reduce stress and chronic pain and boost immunity.

Mary Jane Rotheram, a psychiatry professor at UCLA and co-founder of the center, said programs offered will be adaptable to individuals’ needs.

“You bring us your problem and we’ll bring you the best of science,” she said.

With $125 million in federal research grants for psychiatry at UCLA each year, Rotheram said it makes sense to attempt to bring the benefits of that research to the community.

The center has enough funding to operate for 18 months, but will have to become self sustaining to survive in the long term, Flannery said.

If successful, the Santa Monica center could become a blueprint for wellness centers across the Los Angeles area. There’s already plans in the works for a center to be located at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, which are part of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“We think every community should have one,” Flannery said.

Learn more about the center at

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