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CARE

SCSU, CARE NewHaven participants
From left to right: Giselle Carlott-McDonald, program supervisor, Project Access-New Haven; Sandra M. Bulmer, dean, School of Health and Human Services; Kenn Harris, director, New Haven Healthy Start; Alycia Santilli, director, CARE; Kathleen O’Connor Duffany, research and evaluation director, CARE

Southern has been awarded a 5-year federal grant of up to $3.68 million from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in an effort to improve the health of vulnerable populations in New Haven.

The grant will include $720,000 in the first year, with additional funding of a similar amount anticipated for the remaining years. The project, called Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health, will be coordinated by the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE), an organization that is co-housed at SCSU and the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH).

It is the largest grant ever received by Southern.

A third of the money will be allocated to the New Haven community via local organizations and leaders with the intent of enhancing and developing health projects to benefit low-income and under-served populations.

“Health disparities among communities of color in New Haven, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, are an urgent public health problem that we must address,” said Alycia Santilli, director of CARE and assistant professor in the SCSU Department of Public Health.

“We are very enthusiastic about the opportunities this grant will bring to the community — to support and enhance the work of many community partners that work toward health equity.”

She said the competitive grant – one of only about 30 awarded nationally this year — will bolster the efforts of various programs already making a substantial difference in New Haven.

Among the plans for the grant are to:

*Improve access to health programs in New Haven for individuals at higher risk for developing a chronic disease. Among the ways to do this are to expand the New Haven Health Leaders program, which engages New Haven residents and SCSU graduate students who live in New Haven to address health disparities in their local neighborhoods.

*Expand Project Access New Haven’s community health worker model to help identify people who might not have a primary care physician and who may need social services, such as food and transportation. This work will take place at social service agencies, such as food pantries, throughout the city to help clients put into practice the health advice they receive.

*Start a nutrition ranking system at food pantries so that clients can more easily determine which foods are healthy.

*Promote community support for breast feeding among vulnerable populations.

*Work with transportation officials to help ensure that people can walk and bike to their destinations, as well as have access to bus transportation.

Sandra Bulmer, dean of the SCSU School of Health and Human Services, said the grant is very important for the school, the university and the New Haven community as a whole.

“This grant supports our community partners with their important work, provides resources for New Haven residents, and simultaneously expands practice-based learning opportunities for our undergraduate and graduate students,” Bulmer said.

“I am tremendously grateful for the many New Haven agencies that partner with us to provide hands-on training for our students. This grant will allow us to work together in new ways so that we can move closer to our common vision of eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities for New Haven residents.”

The grant will bolster the partnership between YSPH and SCSU, with SCSU implementing community activities and YSPH implementing evaluation activities. The evaluation will be led Kathleen O’Connor Duffany, CARE’s research and evaluation director, and YSPH faculty.

The project is set to begin immediately.

CARE and New Haven are ideally positioned to implement this project, according to Santilli, noting that CARE has an 11-year history of partnerships in New Haven.

One of those partnerships is with Project Access of New Haven. Darcey Cobbs-Lomax, executive director of the organization, said she was excited to learn of the grant award.

“(Project Access) has had a close relationship with CARE for many years and is looking forward to our new partnership,” she said. “This partnership is one that allows us to bring our unique organizations together to further impact the Greater New Haven community.”

Four CARE leaders in front of SCSU Buley Library

This fall, The Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE), based at Southern’s School of Health and Human Services, launched its “New Haven Neighborhood Health Leaders” program, a leadership program for SCSU students, faculty, and New Haven residents to work together on solutions to pressing social and health issues identified by the community.

Alycia Santilli, CARE director, explains, “The program is based on CARE’s work in New Haven – organizing around health issues at the grassroots level. This program helps to put a framework on and build upon several years of work.” Examples of past CARE projects have been community gardens, creating urban walking trails, bringing mobile farmers’ markets and food pantries to underserved neighborhoods, nutrition education and exercise programs, and supporting neighborhood antiviolence initiatives.

The Health Leaders program is open to faculty and graduate students in the School of Health and Human Services, as well as to residents of the Dixwell, Newhallville, West Rock, Beaver Hills, and West Hills neighborhoods. Two cohorts are being funded in the 2017-18 academic year, with the opportunity to implement a community-based participatory research (CBPR) project. The health leaders that started this fall include two city residents — Jacqui Pheanious, a resident of the Beaver Hills neighborhood and Makia Richardson, a resident of the West Rock neighborhood – and two MPH students, Cerella Craig and Meadeshia Mitchell. The graduate students are GAs, paid through a grant. The neighborhood health leaders are asked to commit about five hours a week to the program in return for a monthly $200 stipend.

The same four people will be continuing through the spring semester and are working on project planning now. In West Rock, they are focusing on transportation and safety issues, and in Beaver Hills/Whalley, they are focusing on health promotion in barber shops.

To find health leaders from the community, Santilli says, “We got the word out through neighborhood networks and through our community connections at CARE.”

The intent of CBPR is for researchers to work side by side with community members to define questions and methods, develop interventions, implement research and evaluation, and disseminate the findings. The two cohorts are focusing their work in two geographic areas — Dixwell/Newhallville/Beaver Hills and West Rock/West Hills — as a means to better engage with neighborhoods immediately adjacent to Southern. The health leaders work closely with residents of these neighborhood to identify an issue to tackle together.

The responsibilities of the health leaders include working in collaboration with CARE’s community coordinator and SCSU faculty and students to build relationships with leaders, other residents, and organizations in the New Haven community. Part of the work they do is to develop health activities and initiatives in collaboration with neighborhood groups and SCSU faculty and students; conduct outreach about neighborhood level projects and other CARE-related projects; and work with leaders and residents through neighborhood associations and groups to develop and implement projects that meet their priorities and needs.

So far, Santilli says, “The program is going great! We provided three initial co-learning workshops, in which we focused on CARE’s New Haven Health Survey data, social determinants of health, community organizing, and community based participatory research/planning.”

The mission of CARE is to improve health in New Haven. CARE seeks to build bridges and share resources between Southern and the community to improve the quality of life for all residents. It is developing neighborhood-level health interventions with local neighborhood groups.

Garden class with CARE at SCSU Community Garden

“Eat your vegetables” is time-honored advice for anyone looking to improve the quality of their diet. But for some people who don’t have easy access to fresh produce, preparing and eating healthy meals can be a challenge.

This summer, area residents who wanted to learn about growing fresh fruits and vegetables, nutrition, and healthy cooking were able to take part in a campus outreach program developed and run by the Sustainability Office and CARE (Community Alliance for Research and Engagement), assisted by New Haven Farms (NHF). The program involved improving the university’s organic garden, located near Davis Hall, while teaching participants about growing and preparing produce from the garden. Sessions took place on six Tuesday evenings, from early July through mid-August.

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Suzanne Huminski, coordinator of the Sustainability Office, and Alycia Santilli, director of CARE, teamed up with a few of their interns to establish the community garden education program. Santilli says that CARE “dedicated some limited grant funds to consult with New Haven Farms and expand the growing capacity of the garden.” Two public health interns planned and piloted the garden-based nutrition education program, which was based on New Haven Farms’ more extensive health education curriculum. Two Sustainability Office interns cared for the garden and worked with participants on growing and harvesting vegetables. Families from low-income communities that surround Southern were invited to take part in the program.

New Haven Farms’ 16-week garden program is open to people who are referred through a health center, Santilli explains. For instance, individuals at risk for diabetes might be referred to the program so they can learn healthier eating habits. “We’ve adapted their program to ours,” Santilli says, “but ours is not connected to health centers or prescriptions.” Sustainability intern Kaelyn Audette visited New Haven Farms to learn about the garden program and bring back what she learned to Southern’s garden. Abby Putzer and Meadeshia Mitchell, both graduate students in public health, went to NHF once a week starting in May to help with NHF’s health education program, so they could understand how it works.

CARE cooking class at SCSU community garden
While CARE sponsored the health education component of the program, with the help of interns Putzer and Mitchell, sustainability interns Audette and Megan McNivens gave the participants a weekly garden tour, answered their questions, and did some cooking demonstrations. Guest chefs also visited the program to do cooking demonstrations. Huminski says it was “very impressive to watch how Kaelyn and Megan stepped up and went above and beyond.”

A core group of about seven participants came every week. The program was an opportunity for the interns to work with community members and to learn how to manage a project themselves.

In addition to nutrition education, garden tours, and cooking demonstrations, participants received free produce from the garden. And the garden is now so productive, thanks to Audette and McNivens, that the Sustainability Office is also able to continue making donations to the St. Ann’s soup kitchen, which it has done for years. “Our goal was to double the produce in the garden so we could continue donating to the soup kitchens but also give a bag of produce to each of the participants,” says Huminski, and the goal was met. She says 363 lb. of produce was harvested from mid-July through early August, and the yield is expected to increase through September.

The weekly garden tour was exciting, says Audette. Many of the participants don’t have a yard, so they can’t have a garden, and they enjoyed watching the vegetables grow. Teaching people to eat more healthily – how to use different vegetables and make healthy food choices – was gratifying, the interns say. Participants got to see vegetables go from farm to plate, and they enjoyed taking home what they learned and sharing it with their families. “It was fun to see them come excitedly each week to show what they’d learned,” says McNivens.

Audette graduated in May; she majored in public health and plans to go to graduate school. McNivens is a junior psychology major. Putzer and Mitchell are MPH students, and this project was part of their practicum.

CARE garden class, entrance to SCSU Community Garden

There is a demand in urban neighborhoods for fresh produce, Santilli says, and beyond the community garden program, participants can continue to eat healthily even if they don’t have a yard where they can grow vegetables. New Haven has a network of about 50 community gardens where residents can grow their own produce, and farmers markets and farmstands around the city, as well as a mobile pantry through Connecticut Food Bank, offer fresh produce.

Santilli says, “We are hopeful that this will be a successful pilot year – and then we hope to start fundraising to become a more institutionalized program. It’s a fantastic university-community partnership.”

Huminski agrees, adding, “this is just the start,” of using the campus garden for community-based projects. “That is a big hillside back there, and it can work harder for the community, the education of our students, and for the environment.”

See more photos from the campus garden and community garden program.