During Asthma Awareness Month in May, I was invited to present to the Region 1 EPA Regional Science Council’s Public Health Forum on a successful model community engagement intervention we utilize to address environmental health issues—such as asthma and lead poisoning —among underserved and hard-to-reach populations.
Pediatric asthma affects an estimated 7.1 million children in the U.S. under the age of 18. In the city of Lawrence, Massachusetts, a largely immigrant Latino community, pediatric asthma affects more than 14% of school age children, primarily due to environmentally related health disparities. In a city like Lawrence, issues such as language, literacy, and culture present challenges to reaching and engaging families in environmental health education.
At the EPA forum, JSI and the Centro de Apoyo Familiar, our partner organization in Lawrence, shared stories of our approach to community engagement that includes partnering with community residents to develop effective ways to engage the community through home-based and neighborhood-based meetings and person-to-person trainings. These “charlas” (meetings) are conducted by Spanish speaking “Promotoras”—or health promoters—who are trained to spread critical health information through familiar neighborhood, church, and childcare provider networks.
Building on the Promotoras’ commitment and passion to serve their community, together we have been able to reach several thousand families in Lawrence with messages about how to identify and address asthma triggers in the home. Key to our success in making a difference in this city, were what we learned from the Promotoras and Lawrence residents about how to reach the Latino population and how to develop culturally and linguistically appropriate interventions that are acceptable to the community.