Promoting wellness in Alabama

This fall, in partnership with seven faith-based communities in the east-central region of the state, Alabama Fellow Ayanda Chakawa will implement Bridging the Gap: Promoting Child Well-Being, a program she designed to empower Black/African American parents of children aged 5-12 years to strengthen their child’s health and welfare.

Bridging the Gap will utilize a train-the-trainer model, in which individuals are trained to educate their fellow community members about healthy behavior, and support them in making positive lifestyle changes. Health promoters in the program will use culturally-oriented strategies aimed at reaching Black/African American parents by appealing to the values that are commonly expressed within their communities: seeking support through faith communities, the importance of social ties, and promoting resiliency.

Several months into her Fellowship, Chakawa, a clinical psychology student at Auburn University, is surprised by the outpouring of support for the Bridging the Gap program from health promoters who have become involved.

“It’s often said that there is a lot of resistance from communities when new projects are introduced, so seeing the exact opposite of that is extremely rewarding,” she says. “It’s been amazing to see the promoters from different sites come together for a unified cause and build on connections with other promoters they know and form new relationships with those they didn’t know. I believe the support and high level of interest attests to the need for the program and its relevance.”

Given that by design, the promoter model trains people with roots in a particular community to do the work of educating and supporting other members of that community, Chakawa is confident the program will be sustained beyond her Fellowship year. Already, one of the participating sites has asked her to advise them on future health promotion work after her Fellowship project concludes.

“I hope that the lasting impact of my project will be to directly empower Black/African American communities to utilize self-sustainable, culturally-relevant methods to promote child health and well-being,” says Chakawa, who believes that disparities in health and well-being in marginalized groups are among the most pressing health-related issues of our time.

The inspiration for Bridging the Gap came to Chakawa last year at a professional conference, where a recent PhD graduate discussed a project in which she trained members of the Hispanic community to do adult health and well-being promotion using culturally-oriented strategies. As she listened to the speaker, Chakawa found herself wondering why she knew of no such program in the Black community—especially one focused on children. That question spurred her to months of research, careful project planning, and grant writing to fund Bridging the Gap. (In addition to ASF, Chakawa’s work is supported by funding from an Auburn University Competitive Outreach Scholarship Grant).

Chakawa is excited about the opportunity the Fellowship has given her to respond to a health-related community need in an innovative way. “My experiences during my year as a Fellow will increase my knowledge of ways to influence community health and provide effective outreach services,” she says.