New Journal Focused on Community-Based Research and Practice

In 2017, Collaborations: A journal of Community-Based Research and Practice launched to offer a peer-reviewed, open access resource focused on community-university collaborations. As an academic journal, Collaborations  will publish information related to:

  • The initiation of grassroots change efforts
  • The ingredients necessary for effective partnerships
  • The challenges of sustaining change
  • The process of technology transfers/research-to-practice/policy
  • The use of action research to document the effects of school-university collaborations
  • The development of community resources to improve university coursework
  • Civic engagement through university-community partnerships
  • Public policy and practice-relevant knowledge generated through university-community collaborations

Collaborations is divided into three sections: Scholarly Research, University-Community Collaborations, and Reflections on Experiential Learning. It is sponsored by the University of Miami and Rutgers University.

See the first issue of Collaborations.

Learn more about the journal.

Read the submission guidelines.


HDRG Recap: Building Community Based Research through Community Coalitions

DannyEditedAt the November 2017, Health Disparities Research Group (HDRG) meeting, Danny Patterson, Coordinator, Collaborations and Partnerships, Gulf States Health Policy Center (GSHPC), shared about their experiences with coalition building to work for improving health outcomes. Working in 5 states (Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas) GSHPC united with community members, partner organizations, and service providers to form coalitions including 130 multi-sector community organizations in the states of Alabama (cities of Bayou La Batre, Mobile, Birmingham) and Mississippi (cities of Hattiesburg and Gulfport/Biloxi) and Louisiana via LSU in Baton Rouge. Coalition members represent a range of groups including faith-based organizations, government, education, primary care, mental health, housing, academia, public health, business, law enforcement, and other community-based organizations. GSHPC works with both local and national partners in their work. The work is supported by the National Institute of Minority Health Disparities.

With a focus on health policy research that leads to positive change, the coalition building process included three basic phases: member recruitment, development of strategic partnerships, and training of coalition members. Activities taking place throughout the process include community information meetings, coalition member recruitment, policy focus area identification, subject matter expert presentations, community forums/policy scans, literature reviews, community action plans (in development) and action plan implementation. The goal is to “empower communities and increase their capacity to improve health outcomes.”

The local coalition is currently working in 3 policy areas: health literacy, financial literacy, and educational literacy.  In terms of health literacy, the coalition is working on local practice or policy change by creating pathways for data sharing between Ozanam Charitable Pharmacy and Mobile Board of Health Clinics. The current research pilot, designed by the coalition, will recruit 50 diagnosed diabetes patients (as of November 6, 31 had been recruited). The two organizations serve mostly low-income and homeless individuals. The process under study will facilitate the sharing of information for the participating patients in order to provide more holistic care. To date, lack of transportation from the clinic to the pharmacy has been identified as one of the problems that will need to be addressed. The study will evaluate whether or not the increased communication between pharmacy and doctor translates into improved care and disease medication management for the patients.

During the question and answer phase of the HDRG meeting, Danny stressed the importance of transparency and open dialogue to build the coalition. Such an approach — a willingness to give a little while building something greater — helps develop the relationships needed to develop a healthy and impactful coalition.

Along with projects related to policy, the GSHPC coalition focuses on building community-based leadership capacity. This capacity is critical for sustainable once funding for the projects are over. The built capacity for local leaders to continue the policy work is essential for continued progress toward health equity.

Learn more about the Gulf States Health Policy Center.
Learn more about the Health Disparities Research Group.

Reducing and Breaking Barriers to Empowerment and Health

The following article was submitted by guest contributor Dr. Jeremy Fletcher, Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Therapy at USA.

The International Classification of Function, Disability, and Health provides researchers and clinicians with a framework to conceptualize terms such as participation, or one’s involvement in life situations while considering the barriers and facilitators to achieving health within the context of their environment. It is well established that children with disabilities participate in less physical activity compared to their typically developing peers. Participation in physical activity by children, including those with disability, enhances body composition, bone health, psychological health and promotes social engagement.

Children with disabilities often face many barriers to physical activity, including a need for extra support to participate, a lack of practical instructor training, and the extra costs associated with raising a child with a disability. Additionally, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitative Services’ statewide five-year maternal and child health needs assessment, with a focus on children and youth with special health care needs has identified five unmet community-based service needs. Three of these needs, recreational opportunities, respite care, and support for families are being met by one local non-profit organization, Dance Without Limits Foundation, LLC.

Dance Without Limits (DWL) was founded by Kerrie Benson, a dance teacher and mother to a special needs child, Rock, also known as “Rockstar”. Rock’s love of music and movement was the inspiration behind DWL. DWL currently teaches dance classes to 120 children or adults with disabilities, across ages ranging from 3 to 50. It operates out of two locations, Mobile and Fairhope, with the addition of a third location in Birmingham scheduled for the spring. When the needs of these children, their families – including spouses and siblings – are considered, DWL provides a tremendous service at a very low cost to the participant. Because of its non-profit status, DWL is able to meet the needs of the children through scholarships to assist with the $50/month fee.

During the class, children and adults with disabilities are paired with a volunteer dance partner. Dance partners range from siblings to pre and post professionally trained therapists and nurses to community members with a passion to serve the underserved. The commonality of the expression of dance and empowering sentiment unite each participant, regardless of their ability, creating an environment of diversity, inclusion, and fun! And while each dancer is moving their body, experiencing the benefits of physical activity, parents are able to engage in discussions about navigating the world of disability or use the hour of respite to enjoy dinner.

In addition to providing a valuable community service, DWL has also partnered with the University of South Alabama’s Department of Physical Therapy to deliver a unique service-learning experience. First-year Doctor of Physical Therapy students complete a learning module on health care communication prior to serving as a dance partner, and then write a paper describing barriers to communication, nonverbal and verbal cues, and establishing rapport. Because many participants have communication deficits, students must focus on overcoming barriers to communication while seeking to improve rapport. By providing education in a real-world environment, the children get to do the teaching! Occupational therapy students also volunteer their time to support the effort making DWL an interprofessional experience.

DWL is an example of what is possible when passion, energy, and a willingness to address a common need collectively mold together to reduce and break barriers to empowerment and health. You can learn more about DWL by following them on Facebook or at their website.

Connecting Regionally: The UAB Community Engagement Institute Livestream



On Friday, October 6, 2017, as hundreds of community members and researchers gathered in Birmingham, Alabama, for the 4th Annual Community Engagement Institute (CEI), a smaller group gathered at the University of South Alabama (USA) Faculty Club to participate through a combination of livestreaming and in-person, interactive sessions. Dubbed the “USA CEI livestream”, this unique event came about through the Regional Community Engagement initiative of the UAB Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences of which USA is a partner. The goals of the event were 1) to test a method for expanding the ability of regional partner institutions to participate in a large event from a distance, 2) to bring the CEI experience to USA’s research and community partners. The 22 individuals attending the event in Mobile watched a livestream of keynote speakers Dr. Errol Crook and Ms. Diane Bell McKoy. Through the Twitter hashtag #CEI2017, the Mobile attendees were able to ask questions of the speakers and connect with the events in Birmingham.

ArrietaDuring the breakout sessions, the Mobile site offered two presentations on community-engaged research. The first presenter, Dr. Martha Arrieta, provided an overview of the research apprentice concept as a new model of peer research. In doing so, she described the contributions of research apprentices to the Sentinel Surveillance Project, the benefits of the experience for apprentices, and the potential for future development. 

The second breakout presentation, by Naima Wells and Lynette Parker, told the story of engaging community members in planning for dissemination of the Sentinel Surveillance Project findings in the community. After an introduction to the project, they discussed the process of developing a framework for engagement, identifying key advisors for the planning purpose, and the methodology for ensuring community voices were heard and incorporated into the work.

Hanks_editedThe two presentations were followed by a discussion led by Dr. Roma Hanks. The dialogue focus was driven by the interest of attendees who sought first to learn more about the research apprenticeship and ways to make it become more formalized.  As the discussion evolved the participants sought to identify meaningful ways to expand community-engaged research to address community problems and identify opportunities to expand scholarly efforts. The discussion was followed by a networking lunch.

By providing the livestream with local activities and networking opportunities, the UAB CCTS in conjunction with the USA Center for Healthy Communities and USA Office of Research Development and Learning worked together to develop the regional engagement strategies. The goal is to continue developing strategies to further connect communities and researchers in the state and region.






Community Engagement Institute Livestream with Interactive Presentations & Dialogue

The USA Center for Healthy Communities in partnership with the USA Office of Research Development & Learning will host a livestream of the 4th Annual Community Engagement Institute “Community Health from Engagement and Environmental Renewal (CHEER) for Civil Inclusion & Empowerment.” The event will take place in the Faculty Club of the University of South Alabama on October 6, 2017, from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm. The keynote presentations will be broadcast from Birmingham with onsite presentations and discussions related to the inclusion of community members in research.

Keynote speakers: Crook 100

Errol D. Crook, M.D., Physician & Director of the Center for Healthy Communities,  USA College of Medicine


Diane Bell McKoy,  President and CEO of Associated Black Charities-Maryland


A continental breakfast and lunch will be provided.

Space is limited so register today.

Download the event flier.

New Publication: Consolidating the Academic End of a Community-Based Participatory Research Venture to Address Health Disparities

A recent article published in the Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement explores the development of the Health Disparities Research Group (HDRG) at the University of South Alabama.  Written by a team led by Dr. Martha Arrieta, the article discusses

  • the formation process of the HDRG
  • Activities leading to the promotion of group identity and permanence
  • Activities to Foster Health Disparities Research Capacity
  • Activities Leading to Engagement in Participatory Research
  • Activities Leading to the Dissemination of CBPR Principles and Practice
  • Keys to Success in the Consolidation of HDRG
  • Challenges Encountered and Responses Devised

Read the full article.

2017 CHA Led Projects: Reaching the Community to Improve Health

This June, five Community Health Advocates(CHAs), submitted applications to the Center for Healthy Communities to implement short term, limited scope community projects addressing nutrition, health literacy, family health, and mental health. These projects are:

Nutrition through Gardening: CHA Lead, Sheena Billingsley
Starting in July, Sheena and her partners planned four health and nutrition awareness events at community gardens in the area. These events focused on educating community members on healthy eating and healthy living. Each consisted of

  • Hands on gardening activities
  • Healthy cooking demonstrations
  • Sustainable gardening techniques
  • Conversations with volunteer health professionals

As an incentive for participation, participants received personal growing space in the community garden located in their zip code.

Community Garden at Ridge Manor: CHA Lead, Frewin Osteen
The goal of this project is to increase and enhance home-based and community centered gardening though the construction of a Hoop House to demonstrate the feasibility of a new gardening method suited to small, protected areas.

Smart Grocery Shopping Workshop: CHA Lead, Barbara Hodnett
Through this workshop which was held in June, Ms. Hodnett offered an educational program designed to help participants develop shopping skills to save money while buying healthy foods. The workshop topics included:

  • Learning the typical layout of a grocery store
  • Arranging your pantry and food storage areas to maximize healthy choices
  • Reading labels to determine whether a product is a sound nutritional choice
  • Creating a healthy weekly meal plan

Workshop participants also participated in a walking field trip to practice applying the information they had learned.

Hearts to HEAL (Health Education and Literacy): CHA Lead, Porsche Blount
This five-day summer enrichment program aims to improve the health knowledge and literacy, reduce associated stigmas, improve self-self esteem, and help to create a positive self-image among adolescent girls aged 12 to 18. The topics addressed in the program are

  • Health literacy
  • Nutrition
  • Family Health
  • Mental Health

A pre/post test design will be used to measure the knowledge gained by participants in the program. Also, the final day of the enrichment experience will be an opportunity for the girls to give presentations about what they have learned.

Black Mental Health Matters: CHA Lead,  Zionne Williams
Through this two part project, Zionne and her partners hope to “break the stigma associated with mental health in minority communities and to bring much-needed awareness to the issues associated with mental health.” Part one of the project consists of a family-friendly community event to raise awareness of the importance of recognizing when someone may need help and how to connect those in need with the correct resource. The event included fun kid’s activities, food and entertainment, and presentations from mental health professionals.

The second part of the project is the development of a mental health awareness campaign through an online platform to promote health literacy, create an open dialogue with the community, and encourage potentially affected individuals to seek and complete treatment. To accomplish the goal, individuals will be invited to share their personal stories through visual, written and audio documentation that will be shared online.

These CHA led projects provide an important mechanism for the Center for Healthy Communities to support the CHAs in applying the knowledge they gain through CHC supported trainings to target health issues that are of greatest concern to them.  Through these projects they provide information in culturally relevant formats to improve the health of their neighbors.

Learn more about the CHA program.

Meet the Community Advisory Board of the Sentinel Surveillance Project

The Sentinel Surveillance to Monitor Progress toward Health Equity project of the CHC’s Center for Excellence aims “to develop and implement a surveillance system to capture the information necessary to monitor progress towards health equity for health disparate populations.” Members of the Community Advisory Board (CAB) are community leaders who work in the research focus areas target by the project. Since the inception of the project in 2011, CAB members have provided the research team with important insight for choosing data collection sites and guidance in interpreting and understanding the collected data. The CAB members include:

Click on the links above to read more about the experiences of each of the CAB members in working with a multi-year research project.

CAB Member Profile: Porsche Blount

Porsche profile
Porsche Blount

The Sentinel Surveillance to Monitor Progress toward Health Equity project aims to develop and implement a surveillance system to capture the information necessary to monitor progress towards health equity for health disparate populations. One key element of this project is the engagement of community members through a Community Advisory Board (CAB). Recently, Ms. Porsche Blount, a native Mobilian and community health activist and advocate, shared a little about her reasons for participating in the CAB and the importance of continued investment in research.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I’m a graduate of Dillard University where I majored in biology and chemistry. I originally intended to attend medical school but shifted professionally to community health education.  I have two beautiful daughters that fuel the synthesis of my passions for health education and working with the youth. My hope is that we can prevent health issues by working with the youth; in other words, stopping problems before they start.

How did you become involved with the Community Advisory Board for the Sentinel Surveillance Project?

Years ago, I became a Community Health Advocate as a part of the community engagement core of the Center for Healthy Communities. A woman named Brittany Duncan, the health education specialist at the time, knew my professional background and suggested that my knowledge might be helpful as a member of the CAB.

Why did you decide to become part of the CAB?

I had experience in both community work and research. From this, I knew there wasn’t really any middle ground between the two. Research isn’t knowledgeable about the community and vice-versa. Participating in the CAB seemed like an opportunity to bridge the two areas.

Give us a few highlights of your time as a CAB member. Is there any one memory that stands out?

For me, the opportunities presented by being a part of the CAB have been the most meaningful. Through the connections made from working with Dr. Arrieta, Dr. Crook and the Center for Healthy Communities I had the opportunity to become a part of the Regional Community Engagement Consortium within the UAB Center for Clinical and Translational Science.

What community needs are you most concerned about?

First, I think about the way we define community needs. In my opinion, the community needs resources to address socioeconomic barriers. The socioeconomic impacts on health are far more wide-ranging than we’ve ever considered. The community needs life resources to impact the things that affect their health.

How do you see the sentinel surveillance project addressing these issues in the community?

I see two contributions from the Sentinel Surveillance Project. First, the way we carried out the project was an opportunity for relationship building between research and the community. I saw this in the way the project was established and the way we let community members know that research is vital to getting help and resources. In the long-term, I believe, the project has opened that door to encourage underserved communities to voice their needs.

Secondly, the data is an opportunity to look at what we know and understand from the literature and look at it from a focused community level. Once we can disseminate to local agencies it will effect change locally. It’s a local answer to a nationwide solution.

Have you ever been involved in research before, if so how is this similar or different?

I have been involved in research projects but this is really different. This is my first experience with community-based participatory research (CBPR). It can be defined as CBPR since the community was actually, actively involved. Also, being on the CAB was the first time for me to serve in that capacity rather than being the researcher.

What have you learned about research through this process?

I’ve learned a lot. The process also confirmed something that I already knew: there is no one size fits all approach to improving health outcomes. This is the biggest lesson.

Has the experience changed the way you consider or approach research in other areas of your life?

It truly has because throughout the process analytical breakdown we’ve done on the collected data. I can’t help but implement the lessons in my day-to-day life. This is true both personally and professionally. It forces me to take into consideration where people are. We are studying peoples knowledge of diseases and we can’t make any assumptions. Again, both personally and professionally, it has made me more open and considerate.

Would you encourage others people in your life to participate in or be a part of leading/shaping research projects as a result of your involvement with Sentinel Surveillance?

I would.  Truthfully, one of my biggest takeaways for underserved communities is the element of distrust when it comes to research. As a member of that community, I understand where this comes from but there has to be a way to encourage people to understand that there is good research, beneficial research. So, for me, if more people could have this experience then it could help break down barriers.

Useful Resource: “Health Equity Change Makers” Toolkit

The Office of Minority Health’s web port “Health Equity Change Makers” using stories to highlight the impact of health disparities and ways in which individuals and groups can make changes. The portal includes a toolkit “designed to provide ideas and resources for activities that you can do — at home, at work, and in the community– to help end health disparities and accelerate health equity.” The toolkit topics cover:

Visit the Health Equity Change Makers web portal to see the full toolkit.