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Connecting Community Development and Public Health

By: Annie Grossinger
Published: December 8, 2015

Once a year, professionals interested in public health and communities come together to share best practices and breakthrough work at the APHA Annual Meeting and Expo, hosted by the American Public Health Association (APHA). This year, LISC funded a cohort of seven community organization leaders working to improve the connections between community development and health systems in their neighborhoods to attend.

Jeanita Moore of St. Antony's Hospital chose to attend a data-focused track. "It’s one of those conferences that you always want to go to to enhance your personal work," Moore said.

Photos by Annie Grossinger

The attendees were Juana Ballesteros, board member at Enlace Chicago; Brenda Bannor of Millennia Consulting; Megan Hinchy of the West Humboldt Park Development Council; Nicole Llorens of Enlace Chicago; Jeanita Moore of St. Antony Hospital, Jackie Samuel of Claretian Associates; and Carmen Vergara of the Esperanza Health Center. LISC Chicago was able to support their attendance at the conference with funding received from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois.

According to Dominique Williams, program officer for LISC Chicago, the idea was born out of conversations among neighborhood groups who are in the field of public health and community development. 

“LISC is interested in making sure our community partners are well-informed and at the table,” said Williams. 

On November 17th, LISC brought the attendees together for a debrief to discuss the conference, moderated by Kuliva Wilburn and Diana Rusz from Health Management Associates. The purpose of the debrief was to share what the cohort learned during the conference and how they plan to disseminate the information among their respective organizations and communities at large. 

Juana Ballesteros, board member at Enlace Chicago, discusses the sessions she attended during APHA's conference.

How to effectively reach target audiences, through social media marketing and how to make health data more user-friendly to inspire action were main points of interest for the attendees.

“There are companies dedicated to reaching untouched audiences through these channels –social media,” said Rusz. “It’s something in our line of work we should start focusing on now.” 

Vergara saw social media being used as a way for groups to become thought experts in their fields. It’s an example the Esperanza Health Center could follow by working with primary care providers to distribute information to patients through these channels. 

Llorens saw another opportunity: “When it comes to health, youth are an untapped resource and there is a lot to be gained from engaging them. They bring a new energy.” She intends to follow up with the Chicago Youth Health Services Group to discuss how to develop leadership skills for youth in Little Village. 

Data can be a powerful tool for social change, as well, but it’s not always easily available or presented in a format that resonates with broad audiences. How to best incorporate data and use it to spur change based on that data is a question Moore sought to better understand. “Data should be in the DNA of your organization,” Moore said. The Robert Wood Foundation presented new metrics for evaluating programs, which she was excited to take away.

Many of the attendees were looking forward to using resources and connections provided by the conference. This comes at a momentous time as the APHA is working on an official policy position that highlights the connection between public health and community development. While many in these fields understand this connection, to date, true cohesion and collaboration have been slow to develop. 

“It’s exciting because public health folks and community development folks are often working on the same things, but not necessarily together, not sharing information,” said Williams. 

This continues to be a focus for Samuels: how can community development players and major health stakeholders work together collectively? 

According to Wilburn, it’s important to understand all the social determents of health - education, housing, workforce development, economic development  - and how they’re interconnected. Both health work and community development work are more effective when this link is recognized. 

The next step is to tackle what to do with the learnings. Moore will be making an upcoming presentation about community health needs assessments and intends to use strategies from the data sessions she attended. She sees this as an opportunity to excite people who aren’t regularly invested in data. 

Two of Llorens’ colleagues attended the conference. They intend to pool together their learnings, articles they can share and contacts as a resource for others in their organization. Samuel wants to use the APHA resource to listen to the sessions she missed and Vergara wants to use the anecdotal visuals and stories to drive home the impact of their work. 

Kuliva Wilburn, who helped moderate the post-conference discussion, stressed the importance of understanding all the social determents of health - education, housing, workforce development, economic development - and how they’re interconnected. 

Wilburn wrapped up the discussion by summarizing her excitement. “My assumptions are always challenged,” she said as many nodded along. “You will see advocates and county officials doing the most creative things within their limitations. I’m always re-invigorated by the power of grassroots advocacy.” 

As APHA works to finalize its policy position concerning the public health and community development link, those in the field, including the seven attendees, continue to connect the dots on the ground, looking for challenging and unique ways to progress. 

“It’s one of those conferences that you always want to go to to enhance your personal work,” said Moore.

Posted in Areas of Work, Neighborhoods

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