The energy was high at the Community Health Worker Community Forum on November 27. Jessica Bauer Walker, Executive Director of the Community Health Worker Network of Buffalo, presided as speakers told their stories at an all-morning meeting at Temple Beth Zion on Delaware Avenue.
Some of these stories could be told only by frontline workers with little recognition, she said. She noted that they do this work because they understand the significant disparities in Buffalo.
The forum emphasized that health means more than health care. It also means considering the social determinants of health, such as safe homes and neighborhoods, and adequate employment.
Nadia Pizzaro, a board co-chair of the American Red Cross here, told the attendees of her experiences looking for people to transport to shelter on Code Blue nights. She told the story also of discovering a young woman caring for her premature infant without supplies and only a box with a blanket in it. Pizzaro’s first thought? “This isn’t right.” She and her colleagues brought over everything that was needed by morning.
This group is far from starry-eyed about their work, but hearing and telling the stories is crucial because then we get it, said Rahwa Ghirmatzion, who works with Ujima Theatre and Unyts. Bringing people who receive services together means that then they can become resources for each other. The Community Health Worker Network builds bridges, which helps to ensure that everyone will live a better life in a better community.
The keynote speaker, Carl H. Rush, MRP, gave a new twist to the concept of bridge-building. A bridge, he said, leaves the two structures on its sides separate. He encouraged the forum to imagine they are planting a garden between the structures instead. Rush works with the Project on CHW Policy and Practice, Institute for Health Policy, at the University of Texas-Houston, and the CHW-National Education Collaborative.
Buffalo, he said, is ahead of the curve in developing CHW programs. But, he noted, a paradigm for CHW training is different from training for other work. It needs fieldwork, core competencies, and participatory learning. In short, he said, it is preparation more than it is education.
Bauer echoed that concept when speaking about the recipients of CHW outreach. We don’t want to say, “What’s wrong with you?” she said. We want to say, “What’s strong with you?”
Sam Magavern, Co-Director, Partnership for the Public Good, added information about advocacy. Commitment, media participation, and lobbying are all effective ways to involve the community, he noted. He commented that the Home Depot slogan, “You can do it. We can help,” describes the assistance that his organization can offer community networks.
Other speakers included Kate Grimm, MD, Co-chair CHW Network of Buffalo; Aaron Bartley, Executive Director, PUSH Buffalo; and Paul Hogan, Vice President, John R. Oishei Foundation, each addressing the relationships of their work to direct community networking.
A story about effective community outreach came from Samuel Radford III, of the District Parent Coordinating Council. He had heard a complaint about young students skipping school and causing problems. What was different was that he forged a connection with the students. He knew that you can’t just talk about the problem; you have to start a conversation first.
Instead of calling the authorities because they were trespassing or working toward suspending them from school, he helped the students come to an agreement that they would go to school the next day if he would meet them there.
Within hours, he established a team that could help fill some of the gaps for these particular students. Other methods that were more conventional, he said, wouldn’t have solved the problem; community health workers, though, can help forge connections that open a process.
For more about social policy and wellness, try this:
Social ills associated with as many US deaths as heart, stroke, and lung cancer
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