Members of PALETTE in Motion performed and then led the audience in a dance to conclude this year’s celebration.

Community engagement celebration honors grant recipients and outstanding programs

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Virginia Commonwealth University’s Council for Community Engagement awarded six university-community programs one-year grants of up to $20,000 during a celebration of the university’s commitment to community engagement on May 4 at the Depot.

The grants, funded jointly by the Office of the Provost and the Office of 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.

Marsha Rappley, M.D., CEO of the VCU Health System and senior vice president for health sciences, told the audience she was drawn to VCU by the university and health system’s commitment to community engagement.   

“People here truly live the mission and feel a deep sense of commitment to the people of our community,” Rappley said.

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:


“Strengthening a Community-Engaged Research Partnership to Promote Diabetes Management in Richmond”

Community Partner: YMCA of Greater Richmond

VCU Partners: Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health of the School of MedicineDepartment of Psychology in theCollege of Humanities and Sciences

More than one in 10 adults in Richmond has diabetes, which can be controlled with intensive behavioral self-management. However, few self-management programs are designed to reach groups with limited economic resources. Using a mixed-methods approach, this project will address this disparity by identifying and disseminating best practices for community-oriented diabetes self-management programs, engaging students in community-based research and building sustainable research capacity on diabetes within Richmond through establishment of a Community Advisory Board.


“STEM Exploration and Enrichment Academy”

Community Partner: Henrico County Public Schools

VCU Partners: The Honors CollegeCenter for the Study of Biological Complexity in VCU Life Sciences

The needs of high-ability, middle-school learners are often overlooked because it is assumed that they have access to the resources required for success. However, not all students identified as gifted and high-ability learners have access to financial resources or parental involvement. This barrier can create a trajectory that ultimately prevents these students from reaching their full potential. This project will address this disparity by connecting VCU students with Henrico County Public Schools high-ability middle-schoolers in order to provide an experiential learning opportunity in science, technology, engineering and math.


“Training Latino Residents in Mental Health First Aid”

Community Partner: The Sacred Heart Center

VCU Partners: Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, School of Social Work, Division of Epidemiology in the School of Medicine

Latinos are not likely to seek and receive mental health treatment because of language barriers, limited availability of bilingual providers and mental health stigma. Thus, there continues to be a significant gap in the mental health services available to Latinos in Richmond. This project will train Latino residents in Mental Health First Aid, an intervention program that provides participants with skills and knowledge about mental health issues.


“MITI Meals: A Hands-On Approach to Nourishing Families”

Community Partner: Shalom Farms

VCU Partners: Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, Department of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine, Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences in the College of Humanities and Sciences

Many residents of Richmond’s lower-income communities lack consistent access to healthy foods and are at high risk of obesity. Previous community-based participatory research identified needs for increased access to healthy foods and experiential learning activities that enable residents to overcome barriers to healthy eating. This project will catalyze these efforts, while also offering VCU students community-engaged learning opportunities and providing data for future, larger-scale grant applications.


“Building a Better Binford: VCU Art of Nursing Goes to School”

Community Partners: Binford Middle School; Communities in Schools

VCU Partners: Department of Art Education in the School of the Arts, Department of Family and Community Health Nursing in the School of Nursing

In order to improve the learning and working environment, Binford Middle School has targeted relationship building as a focus for the 2016-17 school year. VCU Art of Nursing is an established museum-based interprofessional collaboration in which art education facilitators and nursing clinical faculty work together to provide innovative programming that has demonstrated improved perception, communication and reflection skills for beginning nursing students. Based on its successes drawing parallels to practice in a health care clinical setting, the team hypothesizes that this methodology will also increase appreciation of and an expressed value for diverse points of view in the staff, administration, parents and students of Binford.


“Designing a Place to Be: A University-Community Partnership for Addressing the Needs of Adults with Autism”

Community Partner: A Grace Place

VCU Partners: Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Employment of People with Physical Disabilities, Department of Gerontology in the School of Allied Health ProfessionsDepartment of Interior Design in the School of the Arts

Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopment disorder; however, the developmental trajectory as adults with autism age is not well understood. With the rise in recognition of the disorder, adult outcomes have become an increasing priority for this population. This project will forge a course of research that identifies best practices supporting the needs of aging adults with autism while optimizing quality of life.

“Designing a Place to Be: A University-Community Partnership for Addressing the Needs of Adults with Autism” was awarded the first-ever CEnR Partnership Development Grant. The CEnR Partnership Development Grants, awarded up to $10,000, are intended to support new or potential academic-community research partnerships. Funds from this grant are to be used for building and supporting research partnerships through relationship-building activities, exploring shared research interests and developing infrastructure and governance for the research partnership.


Wellness Engagement Petersburg received the “Currents of Change” award for overall excellence. Rachel Beck-Berman, Maghboeba Mosavel, Ph.D., and Juanita Epps, Ph.D., received a framed limited-edition print of a watercolor by W. Baxter Perkinson, D.D.S.
Wellness Engagement Petersburg received the “Currents of Change” award for overall excellence. Rachel Beck-Berman, Maghboeba Mosavel, Ph.D., and Juanita Epps, Ph.D., received a framed limited-edition print of a watercolor by W. Baxter Perkinson, D.D.S.

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 VCU Peer Mentoring at the Villa, a partnership of the Focused Inquiry Program in VCU’s University College and St. Joseph’s Villa in Henrico County.

As part of the Focused Inquiry general education course, first-year VCU students provide sustained peer mentoring to middle and high school students enrolled at one of four alternative schools on St. Joseph's Villa's campus. Focused Inquiry is a year-long course, so students take two service-learning designated courses (UNIV 111 and UNIV 112) in the fall and spring, and by the end of their first year, they will each have devoted at least 40 hours of service to the Villa. Students at the Villa benefit from a sustained relationship with college students, who help to demystify the college experience, and VCU students benefit from working with young people with a range of abilities and life experiences while meeting responsibilities in a local professional environment. In the first two years of the program, 43 VCU students have provided over 1,600 hours of community service at the Villa.

The award for exemplary partnership in service went to the foot care clinic at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, a collaboration of the VCU Schools of Medicine, Dentistry,Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions, the Division for Health Sciences Diversity, and St. Paul’s. 

Students in a health sciences summer program and health science students in the academic year provide health screenings to participants of St. Paul's Episcopal Church's weekly lunch program. This addresses the community-engaged service focus as it provides preventive health care screenings, including foot care, for many of Richmond’s homeless population. In a five-week period during the summer months of 2015, 80 students, health professionals and aspiring health professionals completed 500 hours of service to this project, with additional hours provided by academic support.

The award for exemplary partnership in research went to Wellness Engagement Petersburg, a collaboration of the VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy in the School of Medicine, the Pathways nonprofit community development corporation, the Petersburg YMCA and Virginia State University Cooperative Extension.

The project uses a community-based participatory research approach to lay the foundation for a multi-level, evidence-based intervention to reduce obesity in Petersburg. Community members identified obesity as the primary area of need and expressed a desire for this work to be done. Collaborators work to build capacity, identify assets, conduct necessary formative and pilot work, and begin to build a culture of health and wellness in the community. Innovative approaches have been used to promote data dissemination and report-back events in the community, including the “Changes and Choices” Play (edutainment) and a Youth Day (world café style report back and learn with on-site physical activity breaks), in addition to disseminating findings and lessons learned through peer-reviewed academic channels. The project has led to 10 walking groups being established in the city, a Million Mile Challenge in which residents logged more than 750,000 miles, and physical activity and nutrition events.

The award for student-initiated exemplary partnership went to RamPantry, a partnership of VCU’s Division of Student AffairsOffice of SustainabilityWellness Resource CenterOffice of Community Engagement, School of Dentistry, School of Pharmacy, VCU HealthVCU Police, the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture, the College of Humanities and Sciences, the VCU Foundation, Shalom Farms, Relay Foods and Food Lion.

RamPantry provides culturally appropriate emergency food to in-need VCU students, faculty and staff. The goal of RamPantry is to ensure that no person in the VCU community goes hungry and that students, faculty and staff have access to nutritious food. RamPantry is a student-led interaction among student leaders, service-learning classes, work-study interns, social media interns, individual VCU student and faculty volunteers, and student organizations, who work together to battle food insecurity on campus.

Wellness Engagement Petersburg 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 a past 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. 

The celebration concluded when representatives of PALETTE in Motion, last year’s grant recipients, led a group dance.


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