Community-based participatory research (CBPR) can be used to engage communities in Healthy People by providing them with information, making their voices heard, and highlighting the problems that often escape the public eye. Scholarship in the area of CBRP is vast and employs many methodological approaches and methods (National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc., 2015). Perhaps, one of the most well-known methods in scientific circles is MAP-IT. The MAP-IT approach stands for mobilizing, assess, plan, implement, and track – all of these steps were undertaken by Dr. Cannuscio and her team in the process of their community-based participatory research.
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The project launched under the title of “A Place to Call Home” revolved around the issues of homelessness and housing insecurity (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2014). They are recognized by Healthy People and defined as the state of “lacking a regular nighttime residence or having a primary nighttime residence that is a temporary shelter or other place not designed for sleeping (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2016).” The first thing that the researchers did was compiling relevant information on the topics and writing a white paper. For the project, Dr. Cannuscio mobilized disadvantaged youth that became key participants and valuable members due to their first-hand experience. Together, the team carefully observed the communities under investigation. The disadvantaged youth helped Dr. Cannuscio observe and assess living conditions based on many aspects since they knew exactly what to pay attention to. One detail that the researchers singled out for deeper analysis was the doors of the houses in the neighborhood with which they were getting themselves familiar. As Dr. Cannuscio states, the appearance, quality, and other properties of such a common household item as a door can be interpreted in terms of housing safety and security.
At that stage, the entire team concluded that housing was a universal need. The next step planned was to let the disadvantaged young people’s voices be heard. Dr. Cannuscio encouraged the team members to take photographs of what meant “home” to them. In the process, the researchers collected plenty of great visual materials and engaging stories to tell. For instance, one female member who was pregnant at the time shared how her boyfriend’s Vietnamese grandmother took care of her despite the language barrier. There were many conversations on the definition of personal space. The project participants said that they were trying to make “sanctuaries” in their homes, i.e. make a cherished space for themselves. Many admitted that they felt immense pressure to escape their lifestyle and make positive changes.
Then came the next stage during which the project team did some work in the neighborhood. The area was located in Philadelphia and was infamous for high crime rates, violence, and drug use. It came as no surprise that the living conditions there were mostly subpar. The youth tried to bring some creative spirit to the neighborhood. For instance, they turned an abandoned house into an art object, therefore, granting it a second life. The project did not end there: the art installation as a means for attracting attention to that part of the city. Community residents received much-needed help, be it referrals to social or health services.
Overall, Dr. Cannuscio finds the project to be successfully realized. As she states, it met the foreplanned goals: it emphasized the issue of housing insecurity. However, what is more important, the project allowed young people to feel like protagonists in their own lives. They executed self-agency and showed initiative in opening a dialogue with civic leaders and policy-makers. Apart from that, team members learned how to channel their thoughts and feelings into art objects, which is an excellent way to communicate with the world and find an emotional outlet in healthy behavior.
National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. (2015). Responsibilities & competencies for health education specialists. Web.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2016). Healthy people 2020: Leading health indicators. Web.
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