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We're Here Because We Care

April 18, 2016

Building healthy communities in the City of Philadelphia’s Promise Zone

Since September, when Loretta Sweet Jemmott, RN, PhD, Vice President for Health and Health Equity and Professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, joined Drexel University, she has been leading an initiative to identify and address health and wellness concerns within the West Philadelphia Promise Zone and design evidenced-based sustainable initiatives to meet the community’s needs, promote health and prevent diseases. Entitled, “We’re Here Because We Care: Building Healthy Communities Together”, the initiative will reach 10 neighborhoods, starting in Drexel’s backyard with the community of Mantua.

Understanding and working with community residents and engaging them to talk honestly about their health concerns and needs takes time and requires trust and mutual respect. Jemmott said, “The community is really tired of being studied. Instead of surveying them, we are talking with them to hear their voices and use their voices to build health programs to meet their needs.”

Though health data exists already, this initiative’s goal is to implement community-driven, sustainable programs to improve health outcomes. Jemmott’s approach is to learn from community members by simply talking to them. Her willingness to heed the suggestions of community leaders, from what to call the meetings to where to hold them and what food to serve, has not only proven effective in getting the community buy-in necessary to make the initiative a successful one, but validated her as a trusted partner. 

“If you talk to people with respect, honesty, and transparency, they’ll tell you what they want and need for themselves and their community,” Jemmott noted. “What happens in most communities is that outside people come into the community and do what they think needs to be done there instead of talking to the residents and seeing what they’d like to have happen in their community. The communities are interested in partnerships with people who want to work in their community– they don’t want to be planned for, they want to be planned with. If you’re planning for me I have no voice. If you’re planning with me, I have a voice and my voice has value. It’s important in our communities to give people voice and power and respect and inclusion.” These strategies will ensure that the program development is based on community input which leads to community empowerment and sustainable programs.

At its conclusion, Jemmott, her staff and Drexel faculty team, (including Jamie Slaughter,PhD, assistant professor , Doctoral Nursing Program) colleagues, friends, student volunteers and supporting partners from the Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity, will have conducted 60 focus groups (referred to as community conversation sessions, a suggestion from a community leader in Mantua ), 20 town hall meetings (or Community Call to Action meetings) and 100 individual interviews (community coffee conversations) within the Promise Zone.

To date, a major milestone of the project has been getting invited into the community. It’s a process that has been underway since October at the first “We’re Here Because We Care Community Kick Off Meeting” with representation from all 10 neighborhoods as well as City Council representatives and  State Representatives and has remained a continuous effort even as focus shifted specifically to Mantua to establish the method that will be replicated in each community.

At the recommendation of Mantua community leaders, the first Community Call to Action meeting was held in a local church and not at a university facility. Volunteers conducted extensive street outreach inviting residents and over 120 attended, including Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell. 

“This was our first opportunity to meet with Mantua residents, describe this health initiative and break up into small groups based on age and gender to start asking questions about their health concerns and strategies to improve it,” said Jemmott. “We had great conversations, and we’ll continue to do so to reach any groups who were missing at that meeting. All of the conversations in Mantua will be completed in March.  We will get to work analyzing the information, then report back to the community leaders.  This will be followed by conducting another ‘Call to Action Community Meeting’ with the community residents to report the results back to them regarding their health concerns and work together  with them to determine what health initiatives  they’d like to see happen here to promote their health and well-being.”

The process, starting with community leaders, will be repeated nine more times in the Promise Zone with Powelton Village as the next area of focus, followed by going to the Belmont community. Completion of work in all of the 10 Promise Zone neighborhoods is planned for October, 2016.

“The work I am doing is called community engagement. If you’re really concerned about helping the community to live long, productive, and healthy lives, you need to engage them, respect them, value them, and include them. That’s the only way programs can be developed and sustained – if they’re established by the community voices and not by outside voices,” said Jemmott.