Community engagement celebration honors grant recipients and outstanding programs

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Virginia Commonwealth University’s Council for Community Engagement celebrated the university’s commitment to community engagement during a May 5 ceremony on campus.

“We are here today to celebrate university-community partnerships. We will award grants to encourage the development of new partnerships that will address critical needs in our community and we will recognize partnerships that are making an impact in our community through teaching, research and outreach,” said Cathy Howard, Ph.D., vice provost of the Division of Community Engagement.

During the event, one-year grants of up to $20,000 were awarded to six university-community programs. The grants, funded jointly by the Office of the Provost and the Vice President for Health Sciences, support interdisciplinary projects designed to enhance and increase university engagement with the Greater Richmond community and to contribute to the research and teaching of VCU units. In addition, four university-community partnerships were recognized for their impact.

Since 2007, nearly $800,000 in grant funding has been awarded though the program to support 56 projects.

“VCU Community Engagement grants support and encourage community-university partnerships,” said Tracey Gendron, Ph.D., assistant professor of gerontology and chair of the Council for Community Engagement Grants and Gifts Committee. “These partnerships are intended to creatively address community-identified needs using interdisciplinary approaches.”

The grants also address community-engaged scholarship. The Division for Community Engagement found that between 2007 and 2012, more than 100 scholarly products were developed and nearly 800 VCU students were involved in funded projects.

The six grantees this year were selected from a group of applicants representing programs on both campuses. Applicants are reviewed in a rigorous, two-stage process.

Grants were awarded to:

$WAGIFY: Savings and Wealth as Goals in African American Youth

Community partners: Girls for a Change, Ndugu Business & Leadership Academy

VCU partners: Department of African American Studies, Department of Finance and Department of Psychology

African-Americans lag substantially behind other racial/ethnic groups in financial literacy. Culturally tailored financial literacy programming is an important tool to closing this knowledge gap. Financial literacy programs and information are currently available at the state level, on the Internet and via volunteer and after-school programs. However, in Richmond, none of these are culturally tailored, limiting the accessibility, relevance, and practical application to the community. This program will explore community-specific barriers to financial literacy and financial inclusion and then develop and pilot a culturally tailored financial literacy education program for African-American youth in Richmond.

Mommies, Babies and Bellies

Community partners: Healthy Hearts Plus II, Kinfolks Community

VCU partners: Department of Sociology, Institute for Women’s Health

Breastfeeding provides substantial health benefits for children and mothers, including reduced infection rates, reduced obesity and reduced post-neonatal mortality among children, and a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer among mothers. However, young mothers of low socio-economic status are unlikely to breastfeed. Mommies, Bellies, Babies, & Daddies’ the ABCs of Breastfeeding program is a targeted, community-based, grass-roots intervention to encourage, inform and empower mothers to care for themselves and their babies and to increase breastfeeding initiation and duration. This project will evaluate and disseminate the outcomes of the ABCs of Breastfeeding using community-based participatory research methods. Findings will be used as baseline data for seeking federal funding to establish the ABCs of Breastfeeding as an evidence-based best practice model for community-based breastfeeding promotion.

Expanding Healthy Relationships in Central Virginia

Community partners: Hearth Havens Inc., Virginia Anti-Violence Project

VCU partners: Department of Rehabilitation Counseling, Partnership for People with Disabilities, School of Education and School of Social Work

Healthy relationship education is a widely accepted primary intervention for preventing abuse. It is particularly important for people with disabilities because they face a much higher risk of experiencing abuse than those without disabilities. This project will address this disparity by training an interdisciplinary group of VCU students to implement and evaluate the Leadership for Empowerment and Abuse Prevention healthy relationship curriculum. This partnership will advance abuse prevention for adults with disabilities in several ways. The people with disabilities who participate in the LEAP training will better understand healthy relationships and develop skills for disclosing unhealthy or confusing relationships to a trusted person. VCU students will gain foundational knowledge for supporting people with disabilities as well as learn the dynamics of interpersonal violence and how to respond if someone was to disclose abuse.

PALETTE in Motion

Community partners: Promoting Art for Life Enrichment Through Transgenerational Engagement, Senior Connections, The Capital Area Agency on Aging

VCU partners: Department of Dance and Choreography, Department of Gerontology, Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science and Department of Physical Therapy

Promoting Art for Life Enrichment Through Transgenerational Engagement launched in January 2014 as an intergenerational visual arts program for interprofessional students and senior adults. This project will expand PALETTE to present a movement arts program. PALETTE in Motion will pair VCU students with senior adults to participate in creative movement classes over the course of a semester. Ageism (fear of senior adults) and negative attitudes toward senior adults are shown to reduce effective care delivery and impact senior adults’ long-term health outcome. PALETTE in Motion is designed to challenge these attitudes by promoting successful aging, fostering community engagement and offering students new options for translating their studies into their career.

Testing a Proposed Evidence Base for the Red Flag Campaign: Promoting Prevention through Program Messaging Evaluation

Community partner: Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance

VCU partners: Department of Social and Behavioral Health, Institute of Women’s Health, The Wellness Resource Center, Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture,School of Education

In 2006, the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance developed the Red Flag Campaign to prevent dating violence on college campuses. The Red Flag Campaign is widely adopted nationally, but lacks empirical validation due to its lack of an outcome evaluation. Additionally, Red Flag Campaign’s social media messaging is also in need of refinement and evaluation. This project will continue an ongoing project at VCU to refine and test an evaluation tool and social media campaign for the Red Flag Campaign. The data collected from this project will assist the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance with enhancing their status as a key evidence-based violence prevention program.

Monroe Park Campus Garden

Community partners: Center for High Blood Pressure, Community Food Collaborative

VCU partners: Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science, Division of Community Engagement, Office of Sustainability, Green Unity, mOb Studio & Storefront for Community Design, RamPantry, Verde

Food deserts are areas with limited access to healthy food options and are a major contributor to health issues and inequality in the United States. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture identified Richmond as having the largest food desert for a U.S. city its size. The goals of the Monroe Park Campus Garden project are twofold: (1) to provide experiential learning opportunities around growing and accessing healthy food, and (2) to grow a high volume of fresh produce for donation to underserved individuals. This project will create a master plan for the construction and management of a high-output garden on VCU’s Monroe Park Campus that upon implementation will solidify a strong network of partnerships between the university and Richmond community members.

Howard said VCU’s commitment to community engagement is making an impact in the community and is being recognized nationally.

VCU received its designation from Carnegie as a “Community Engaged Campus” and is one of just 54 universities with high research and community engaged designations from Carnegie.

In 2014, VCU received the C. Peter Magrath award from the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities for outstanding university-community partnership.

Based on last year’s data, VCU students participated in 1,108,784 hours of community service. And this year, 3608 students enrolled in service-learning classes that provided over 72,000 hours of service.

The Council for Community Engagement also recognized four outstanding university-community partnerships, including one that was designated this year’s “Currents of Change” award winner.

The award for exemplary partnership in teaching went to Global Health and Social Media, a partnership of the Richard T. Robertson School of Media, the Culture Center for Media and Health, the Preemptive Love Coalition and the World Pediatric Project.

Nonprofit organizations engage in social media networks to build their online communities and achieve their fundraising goals, but many struggle with a lack of resources and time to develop social media strategies and implement them through regular engagement by their staff. The open online course MASC 291 – Global Health and Social Media used connected-learning techniques to guide 120 students in 20 project teams to develop social medial campaigns for two internationally operating nonprofit clients: the Richmond-based World Pediatric Project and the Iraq-based Preemptive Love Coalition. Both clients expressed satisfaction with the students’ strategy reports and campaigns and were able to select the best ideas from the various team reports. The two winning teams presented their projects and the nonprofit causes at the Media+Health Symposium in February of 2015.

The award for exemplary partnership in outreach went to The Safety Net Primary Care Psychology Collaborative, a collaboration of the Fan Free Clinic, The Daily Planet, the Department of Internal Medicine, the Department of Psychology and the Ambulatory Care Center.

Three safety net primary care clinics in Richmond (VCU Ambulatory Care Center, The Daily Planet and Fan Free Clinic) reached out to Bruce Rybarczyk, Ph.D., in the Department of Psychology, for help addressing unmet mental health needs among their patients. A high percentage of patients (upwards of 50 percent of all patients) with mental health concerns were either not receiving care at all or were obtaining substandard care due to a wide range of economic and other barriers. Beginning in 2008, Rybarczyk started embedding supervised doctoral trainees from the clinical and counseling psychology doctoral programs in these three safety net primary care clinics. Since that time, trainees have delivered more than 8,500 sessions of pro bono behavioral care to underserved individuals in the Greater Richmond area.

The award for exemplary partnership in research went to the Seymour Living Lab, partnership of the Children’s Museum of Richmond and the Department of Occupational Therapy.

The Seymour Living Lab is a collaborative educational research laboratory in which scientists recruit participants and conduct studies at the museum, and museum visitors learn about child development and the research process from scientists. Over the past three years, this research lab has provided educational opportunities for Occupational Therapy students that meet museum needs. This collaboration has resulted in the design of 31 adaptive projects to meet the needs of visitors with disabilities, the development of seven brochures on child development, 15 “exhibit buddies” designed by 84 occupational therapy students and 25 student volunteers for Sensitive Legendary Santa, and one leadership project focused on coordinated activities for the museum’s Special Night for Special Needs.

The award for student-initiated exemplary partnership went to Community Food Collaboration,a partnership of Fairfield Middle School, Henrico County Schools Community Services,VCU ASPiRE and the School of Education.

Fairfield Middle School serves the Henrico East Community that has battled long-term poverty, which is manifested in lower student achievement, health disparities, and limited access to fresh affordable food. The FMS Community Garden is a place-based service learning initiative where students, faculty and community partners work collaboratively to address serious gaps in health, wellness, nutritional access and student achievement. The CFC runs several initiatives that include a 7,000-square-foot garden where they use biointensive, chemical-free market gardening practices to supply the weekly FMS Community Garden Market and a growing network of local business partners. Using only fresh, naturally grown produce from the FMS Community Garden, a team of 12 FMS student interns hold a weekly farm stand at the school. As part of the community engagement efforts, the garden also provides a space for community workshops centered on healthy eating, food preservation and growing your own.

The Safety Net Primary Care Psychology Collaborative also received the “Currents of Change” award for overall excellence.

The “Currents of Change” winner received a framed limited-edition print of a watercolor by W. Baxter Perkinson, D.D.S., a School of Dentistry alumnus, who is the president of VCU Alumni and has served as rector and member of the Board of Visitors and vice president of the VCU Health System Authority Board of Directors.