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Pittsburgh Projects - 2018

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Reducing Recidivism at Bethlehem Haven's Emergency Shelter

Student Interns:
Alysse Littleberry, University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work/Graduate School of Public Health 
Thai Nguyen, University of Pittsburgh, School of Pharmacy and Therapeutics

Academic Preceptor:
Sharon Connor, PharmD, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh, School of Pharmacy and Therapeutics

Community Preceptor:
Sharon Higginbothan, PhD, Bethlehem Haven

The Community Site:
Bethlehem Haven is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide a continuum of care for homeless women that leads toward self-sufficiency. To achieve this mission, Bethlehem Haven offers several housing programs, including an emergency shelter, medical respite, rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing and Safe At Home. Their non-housing programs include a mental health and wellness clinic, Uptown legal clinic and a drop-in center that provides meals and supportive services to program recipients. View Community Partner Web Site

BTG Focus Areas (adapted from Healthy People 2010 and 2020):
Chronic Diseases; Disabilities Conditions; Educational Advancement/Literacy; Mental Health; Substance Abuse.

The Project:
The Bridging the Gaps student interns at Bethlehem Haven focused on understanding recidivism, or why women return to the homeless shelter. Their project had four components. First, they identified a method to describe the recidivism rate at Bethlehem Haven’s Emergency Shelter. Second, the interns reviewed the academic literature on homeless recidivism and created a report for staff to better understand what leads to and protects against repeated episodes of homelessness. Third, they interviewed women who have used shelter services in order to further understand the unique context of homeless women in the shelter and personalize recommendations for Bethlehem Haven. Finally, the interns created worksheets and tools based on some of these recommendations that can be used to improve shelter services longer term.

Intern Statements:
Alysse Littleberry: “After hearing about the journeys of women and spending time at the shelter, homelessness to me seems like the intersection of all social problems — poverty, mental illness, under-insurance, domestic violence, substance abuse … I feel very motivated to help these women, but I also feel like my work will never be done. I think after this experience, I am more motivated to work towards alleviating these problems in my career. Even if I can’t ‘solve’ homelessness, I think I have the power to make things a little better for some people.”

Thai Nguyen: "I have learned at Bethlehem Haven that everyone wants to be listened to. My sitting down with someone and giving them the space and time to talk about their hardship was seen as therapeutic for many women at the shelter. Instead of having me see them all with a big brush stroke of homelessness, they get to show me who they are as individuals with unique successes and losses. This experience has been nourishing for me to grow as a healthcare provider and boost my desire to give more to those who need it the most."

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Hearts and Heads: Mental Health Awareness for a Healthier Hazelwood

Student Interns:
Claire Hillison, University of Pittsburgh, School of Nursing
Katherine Martin, University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine
Emily Shimko, University of Pittsburgh, School of Education, Health and Physical Activity

Academic Preceptor:
Todd Bear, PhD, MPH, University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health

Community Preceptor:
Joy Cannon, Director of Programming, Center of Life

The Community Site:
Center of Life is a community-empowerment organization located in the Hazelwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Center of Life was founded in 2002 by the Rev. Tim Smith to aid in the revitalization of the community and its people. Center of Life’s mission aims to help the families and youth through a variety of after-school programs, family outreach groups, Voices summer camp and KRUNK student-led music production, with a focus on education, art, music and sports. The Center of Life staff believe that “everything is about people.” View Community Partner Web Site

BTG Focus Areas (adapted from Healthy People 2010 and 2020):
Access to Healthcare; Maternal Infant and Child Health; Mental Health; Oral Health; Physical Activity and Fitness.

The Project:
After surveying the Center of Life staff about health topics and observing Hazelwood students at Minadeo Elementary, the Bridging the Gaps student interns quickly realized that there was a lack of understanding and awareness of mental health in the community. For this reason, they developed a mental health curriculum of interactive workshops for both parents and children from the Voices Summer Camp. To kick off the curriculum, the interns taught five different sessions that included discussions about what mental health is and included activities that reduce stress, such as exercise, journaling, coloring, breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation. The interns also engaged the older KRUNK students by facilitating mental health discussions that were then recorded for use during the workshops. They created a mental health resource guide and included the curriculum of the workshops for the parents to continue the mental health conversation at home and also for future use by the Center of Life.

Intern Statements:
Claire Hillison: “My time with Bridging the Gaps has been a whirlwind of learning about and experiencing firsthand the social determinants of health that so often stand between our patients and the healthcare they need. In nursing school, we tend look at healthcare as treating a diagnosis rather than treating a person. This internship has proven to me that the only way we can make a lasting impact in the lives of underserved populations is to look at the individuals and meet them where they are. At the Center of Life, they live by the motto ‘everything is about people' and, as I begin to build my future as a nurse, I will take this lesson with me to better serve my patients. Above all, this experience has taught me that if we can connect with our patients with humanity and compassion it makes all the difference in the world.”

Katherine Martin: “Through Bridging the Gaps and my opportunity to partner with Center of Life, I have learned that each individual’s background shapes who they are and forms part of their unique story. Working to understand this story is necessary to facilitate communication and build positive relationships. This internship has strengthened my leadership, critical thinking and, most importantly, interpersonal skills. I will continue to reflect on my experiences this summer to help me be a better physician for my future patients, trying to understand their story and how it affects their overall health.”  

Emily Shimko: “Bridging the Gaps has been an intense experience — mentally intensive and time intensive.  Never once did I question if it is worth it. I have met amazing individuals including my partners and the other Bridging the Gappers, the staff at Center of Life and the students and their families. No amount of reading or listening to lectures could compare to the immersive experience of spending eight weeks in a community with those who live there. The statistics disappear and are replaced by people with real struggles and real triumphs. It has reinforced my view that most anything in life can relate back to our health. I think anyone aspiring to a career in healthcare or education and those making decisions that affect public policy need to take advantage of any opportunity small or large to engage in real life with the very real people we impact.”

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Early Head Start - Parental Needs Assessment

Student Interns:
Mohammed Bu Saad, University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health
Arthi Narayanan, University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine           

Academic Preceptor:
Martha Ann Terry, PhD, University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health

Community Preceptors:
Deborah Gallagher, MEd, COTRAIC Early Head Start
Pam Dickinson, BS, COTRAIC Early Head Start

The Community Site:
COTRAIC Early Head Start (EHS) serves families with children from birth to 3 years old, who are living at or below the poverty line. The mission is “to promote the socioeconomic development of the Native American Community and others who experience the same type of socioeconomic difficulties in the greater Pittsburgh metropolitan area.” EHS services address child development, health services, mental health, nutrition, family support, disabilities, community partnerships and pregnancy. Early Head Start provides services through home visitors who work with the families for an hour and a half each week or through childcare centers that partner with Early Head Start. View Community Partner Web Site

BTG Focus Areas (adapted from Healthy People 2010 and 2020):
Access to Healthcare; Educational Advancement/Literacy; Maternal, Infant and Child Health; Nutrition and Weight Status; Oral Health.

The Project:
The Bridging the Gaps student interns conducted a needs assessment among the parents of EHS participants by administering surveys and conducting interviews with them at home visits and childcare centers. The interns assessed parental needs related to childcare, health and social services, nutrition, and transportation and supplemented this survey with an in-person interview, asking parents open-ended questions about their satisfaction with EHS. In the interviews, the students focused on identifying the parents’ additional needs and difficulties that were not currently addressed by EHS. The students collected responses from 66 families and provided COTRAIC with a summary of the results, including suggestions about how to improve EHS, based on those responses. This project will be used to modify EHS, and ultimately, optimize the program to best serve the needs of the EHS families in these communities.

Intern Statements:
Mohammed Bu Saad: “Working as an intern with the Early Head Start program gave me an opportunity to meet different groups of people, and it made me realize that the knowledge that we get in classes can be enhanced and  polished by having a field experience in relevant areas. Also, the results that we got from our projects’ Parental Needs Assessment, emphasize the importance of listening to people’s opinions and concerns and that we should not think for a second that we understand everything about them. As a physician who is pursuing a degree in public health, this internship showed me how important it is for health professionals from different fields to do collaborative work to understand how different interconnected factors could impact the overall health of our communities. I think there is a gap between the clinical field and the public health field, and it can only be bridged by such collaborative efforts.

Arthi Narayanan: “Working with Early Head Start gave me the incredible opportunity to hear people’s stories firsthand. By listening to families describe their struggles and experiences with childcare and the challenges they face in other aspects of their lives, I witnessed how strong and resilient these families are. By hearing directly from parents, spending time in their homes, and getting to know their entire families, I had the chance to become a part of their communities. I have a better understanding of how a variety of factors, including childcare, health services, food services, parks, libraries, family centers and more, must come together to build strong communities. I am excited to incorporate this learning into my future career as a physician, taking into account how community resources and strong relationships among community members can help build healthier lifestyles.”

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A Culture of Activity

Student Interns:
Ololade (Lola) Adebiyi, University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine
Zachary Michaels, University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work

Academic Preceptor:
Iman Hassan, MD, University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine

Community Preceptors:
Mark Plassmeyer, MSW, Oakland Residential Program Director, Community Human Services
Brandi Harrison, MS, Chief Residential Officer, Community Human Services

The Community Site:
The mission of Community Human Services (CHS), located in Oakland, is to empower individuals and families to live in stable housing, connect to community resources, build relationships and access quality food. Last year alone, CHS prevented more than 1,500 adults and children from becoming homeless, supported more than 145 adults and seniors with disabilities to remain living independently in their own homes, and empowered more than 80 families to ready their young children for preschool. Each month CHS connected 1,400 people with fresh produce in its food pantry. View Community Partner Web Site

BTG Focus Areas (adapted from Healthy People 2010 and 2020):
Disabilities Conditions; Health-Related Quality of Life and Well-Being; Mental Health; Nutrition and Weight Status; Oral Health.

The Project:
Initially, the Bridging the Gaps student interns worked with the Community Human Services (CHS) domicile care program to develop a more nutritious menu, at the program’s request, based on the residents’ preferences and staff needs. Along with researching diverse recipes, analyzing past menus for nutritional value, preparing a community vegetable and herb garden, and introducing nutritious snacks, the interns hoped to create a three-week menu to address these nutritional needs. While researching, Zachary discovered a computer program through CHS’s food ordering website that streamlined nutritious menu planning and essentially addressed the issue. With that, the interns shifted their focus to community enrichment, after noticing that the domicile care program was lacking in this area. The interns’ project included organizing outings to engage residents in their community and developing activities for a possible community activity room. With resident input, the interns planned and executed activities, and they developed a floor plan, researched items that residents wanted in a community space and established relationships with community partners that provide creative therapies or general well-being activities. Their ideas were presented in a proposal booklet for the staff and administration to use as a springboard.

Intern Statements:
Lola Adebiyi: “My time at Community Human Services showed me the importance of humbling yourself before trying to weave into an established community. There are structures that deserve awareness before trying to barge in and make changes. I was able to focus on getting to know the residents on an individual level and checking myself before making sweeping assumptions or generalizations about their mental illnesses. This further encourages me to practice medicine on the individual level and begin finding creative ways to work beyond the system. It also taught me how a little bit of enrichment and imagination can go a long way in improving your outlook on life.”

Zachary Michaels: “Working at the domicile care facility has been an opportunity to examine and consider social safety nets. Examining dom care, and what it provides and cannot provide to its residents, has been a learning experience relevant to social work service, not only to the mentally ill, but also potentially any vulnerable population. CHS has taken on challenges both recurrent and unique for human-service oriented nonprofits, and it has been informative to be able to learn the perspectives of management, staff and consumers.”

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Career Resource Guide

Student Interns:
Dillon Mody, University of Pittsburgh, School of Public Health
Paige Warren, University of Pittsburgh, School of Nursing

Academic Preceptor:
Tracy Soska, PhD, University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work

Community Preceptors:
Tamera Stafford, Gwen’s Girls Program Director
Brandon Ziats, Youth Opportunities Development Program Director

The Community Site:
Gwen’s Girls was founded in 2002 by former Pittsburgh Police Commander Gwendolyn J. Elliott, who noticed the plight of girls and young women in high-risk populations and the lack of services that would meet their complex needs. The mission of Gwen’s Girls is to empower girls and young women to have productive lives through holistic, gender-specific programs, education and experiences. Gwen’s Girls offers services for girls aged 8 to 16, including after-school programs, summer camp, prevention and community engagement. The Gwen’s Girls summer camp program provides structured time for the girls to focus on building life skills, hobbies and interests, along with time for general summer fun.

Youth Opportunities Development was founded in 2012 by former area managers at One Vision One Life, Taili Thompson and Brandon Ziats, to fully address the root causes of violence in Pittsburgh. The mission of Youth Opportunities Development is to empower boys and young men to have productive lives through holistic, gender-specific programs, education and experiences. Youth Opportunities Development offers services for boys aged 10 to 14, including after-school programs, summer camp, prevention and community engagement. Youth Opportunities Development’s summer camp program provides structured time for the boys to focus on building life skills, hobbies and interests, along with time for general summer fun. View Community Partner Web Site

BTG Focus Areas (adapted from Healthy People 2010 and 2020):
Access to Healthcare; Educational Advancement/Literacy; Oral Health; Physical Activity and Fitness; Preparedness.

The Project:
The Bridging the Gaps student interns noticed a disconnect between the age at which children should be thinking about their future careers and the grade level at which accessible career guides are written. In an effort to embolden the children’s aspirations, the interns developed their Career Resource Guide. In the guide, there are brief synopses of various careers as well as information regarding résumé building, cover letters, internships and information regarding secondary education. The secondary education section of the guide contains information about both universities and vocational schools. The Career Resource Guide is distributed to Gwen’s Girls, Youth Opportunities Development and other sites around Clairton.

Intern Statements:
Dillon Mody: “My experience at Gwen’s Girls and Youth Opportunities Development brought new life, as the children’s youth and exuberance inspired me to be passionate and driven toward my career goals. As an aspiring clinician, I am confident that my time in Clairton has taught me how to navigate a tight-knit community to improve their overall health outlook. I am prepared to translate this experience into practice, as I have developed my ability to understand and effectively communicate with a new population. Bridging the Gaps provided an invaluable opportunity to expand my comfort zone while honing my professional skill set.” 

Paige Warren: “During my time at Gwen’s Girls and Youth Opportunities Development I saw not only the resilience in the children that I worked with, but also the pure happiness of childhood. I saw a growth in myself through my time at the reflective sessions as well as being immersed into Clairton’s embracing community. I knew that I would learn a lot through this internship, but I didn’t realize that it would strengthen my desire for my future career in nursing so greatly.”

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Life Skills Curriculum: Building Healthy Relationships and Solving Interpersonal Conflict

Student Interns:
Rafa Ifthikhar, University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine
Alex Kabusk, University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work

Academic Preceptor:
Ann Mitchell, PHD, RN, AHN-BC, FIAAN, FAAN, University of Pittsburgh, School of Nursing

Community Preceptor:
Dawn Nicholas, MEd, MA, Sojourner House

The Community Site:
Sojourner House is an inpatient treatment facility for mothers and their children, located in the neighborhood of Friendship. Its mission is to provide compassionate, faith-based residential recovery services. The facility houses up to 14 women and their children in individual apartments. Residents can typically stay in the program for up to six months. The recovery programming consists of life-skills coaching, parenting education and clinical counseling. Sojourner House also provides in-house childcare and connections to relevant community resources for the residents to enhance their recovery both at Sojourner House and beyond. View Community Partner Web Site

BTG Focus Areas (adapted from Healthy People 2010 and 2020):
Health-Related Quality of Life and Well-Being; Maternal, Infant and Child Health; Mental Health; Preparedness; Substance Abuse.

The Project:
Many of the women at Sojourner House come from a variety of backgrounds, have a history of unhealthy relationships and have experienced trauma in their past. While at Sojourner House, the women are learning interpersonal skills and building healthy relationships for the first time. This creates a situation in which interpersonal conflicts are more likely to occur. These conflicts impede residents’ progress and participation in recovery. The Bridging the Gaps student interns developed a life-skills curriculum that focuses on building healthy relationships and resolving interpersonal conflict. The purpose of this curriculum is to enhance residents’ development and utilization of their interpersonal skills to reduce the impact that interpersonal conflicts have on residents’ recovery. The interns conducted semi-structured interviews with the staff and residents to understand their perspectives. The interns based the curriculum on their findings. The curriculum focuses on relevant scenarios and effective strategies that the women and staff can use while at Sojourner House and after they leave. It is designed to be used by both residents and staff during the intake process and while new residents are adjusting to living at Sojourner House.

Intern Statements:
Rafa Ifthikhar: “Through listening to the women, children and staff at Sojourner House, I now understand addiction as a multifactorial disease that is rooted in a person's circumstances and negative life experiences. Addiction does not discriminate — it can happen to anyone. The women at Sojourner House are some of the strongest and most resilient people I have ever met. They have survived unimaginable situations and continue to fight for themselves and their children. Through interning at Sojourner House, I have learned so much about individuals in recovery, which will help me in my future career, as I plan to work with marginalized populations as a primary care physician in underserved areas.”

Alex Kabusk: “I was very honored to intern at Sojourner House this summer with BTG. I was surprised by the amount of trauma and structural violence the women had experienced before coming to Sojourner House, but was pleasantly surprised at how open and accepting the women were of Rafa and me. I learned so much about addiction, drug and alcohol treatment, and community health. The skills and knowledge I gained at Sojourner House will be invaluable to my future career as a social worker and therapist. BTG inspired me to devote my life to working with underserved individuals. It gave me a fresh perspective on a wide range of issues and gifted me with life-changing insights into public health and underserved and marginalized individuals.”

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