Health Equity Grant recipients 2020-21

The 2021 CEnR Health Equity Grant, developed in partnership with the VCU Health Equity Initiative, supports the vision of improving the health of residents in the Greater Richmond area by working with community partners and co-researchers.

The grant provides initial funding for two, one-year CEnR projects for a maximum award of $25,000 each. Additionally, six to eight capacity-building grants ranging from $3,000 to $8,000 will be awarded. Funding is limited to research proposals that exemplify sustainable partnerships between members of the VCU/VCU Health System and the surrounding Richmond community throughout the projects’ implementation. 

The following were awarded Community-Engaged Research Health Equity Grant recipients in the 2020-21 academic year:

Richmond Brain Health Initiative

Faika Zanjani, Ph.D., associate professor
College of Health Professions

Lana Sargent, Ph.D., RN, FNP-C, GNP-BC, associate professor
School of Nursing

Alzheimer's disease and related dementias (ADRD) are leading contributors to death and disability. While there have been major clinical and research advances, the benefits are not reaching everyone effectively. To address the ADRD health disparities highlighted by the National Institutes of Aging and Center of Disease Control, we propose to improve ADRD education and resources available to low-income, majority African American/Black older adults, in the Richmond, VA area. Accordingly, we propose to develop a Richmond Brain Health program within the Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry, and Innovation (iCubed), implemented through the Richmond Health and Wellness Program (RHWP). As part of the development process, we aim to create brain health partnerships with local ADRD organizations, specifically with local chapters of the Alzheimer's Association, Area Agency on Aging: Senior Connections, VA-State level No Wrong Door system, Riverside Center for Excellence in Aging & Lifelong Health: Memory Care, University of Virginia: Memory Care Center.

Piloting a Housing Justice Atlas for Virginia

Kathryn Howell, Ph.D., associate professor
L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs

Benjamin Teresa, Ph.D., assistant professor
L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs

The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated racialized inequities in housing. It has also made clear that stable housing is essential to health and to economic security, as it has made the consequences of housing instability and displacement particularly dire. Black and Brown communities continue to face disproportionate eviction rates despite the CDC eviction moratorium, and this only stands to worsen once the moratorium ends. This project, a partnership between the RVA Eviction Lab and the UVA Equity Center and local housing practitioners from Legal Aid Justice Center and other direct service organizations, will build the foundation of a durable community-based data and social infrastructure to engage with and mobilize impacted communities against eviction and housing instability. The infrastructure created here is critical not only for the development of equitable pandemic-related recovery efforts but for broader reparative action to create a racially just future. Leveraging the strengths of these teams will create a robust tool to communicate and engage people affected by housing instability, which would not be possible in separate institutional silos.

Developing a Community Advisory Board to Address the Oral Health Needs of Refugee Populations

Dina Garcia, Ph.D., assistant professor
School of Medicine

Refugee populations face considerable oral health inequities post-resettlement. The proposed year-long project will establish a Community Advisory Board (CAB) of six to ten refugee community leaders that will guide the development of an intervention to improve the oral health of refugee adults in Richmond/Henrico County. Throughout the grant period, facilitators and barriers to CAB members' engagement will be assessed through surveys and interviews to examine an understudied area of research regarding the factors that influence successful CAB implementation and sustainability in refugee communities. All proposed activities will be guided by a community-academic partnership consisting of ongoing collaborators from the Department of Health Behavior and Policy and the School of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University, the Virginia Department of Health Newcomer Health Program, the West Henrico Health Department, and Commonwealth Catholic Charities.

Factors Impacting the Housing Stability of System-Involved Youth and Young Adults in Richmond

Alex Wagaman, Ph.D., associate professor
School of Social Work

This project is a collaboration between Dr. Alex Wagaman in the VCU School of Social Work and Advocates for Richmond Youth, a participatory action research team of young people with lived experience of housing instability. The proposed research study will explore the factors that impact youth and young adults who have been system-involved (such as child welfare and juvenile justice) in accessing and maintaining housing stability. Housing stability is essential to maintaining mental and physical health in the short and long term. The study will be designed, implemented and disseminated together, resulting in the identification of policies and practices that dismantle the system-to-homelessness pipelines. The team will spend nine months on recruitment, research design and implementation. The remaining three months will include community dissemination through a community forum and social media campaign aimed at engaging targeted community stakeholders in action efforts for system-level change.

A Programmatic Evaluation of Use and Efficacy of Little Food Pantries in Food Insecure Spaces

John Jones, Ph.D., assistant professor
Center for Environmental Studies

This pilot program seeks to mitigate food insecurity on the VCU campus and in neighborhoods immediately adjacent to campus (near-campus) by deploying ‘little food pantries', miniature weatherproof dry goods food pantries. The VCU Ram Pantry will utilize its surplus of non-perishable items and grant funds to stock these pantries by either volunteers and federal work study students. The research team will evaluate the usage rates and potential efficacy of these pantries in mitigating food insecurity amongst both VCU students and non-VCU affiliated residents in the near-campus neighborhoods. If proven useful and effective, an expanded version of this pilot program could be adopted by colleges and universities across the nation to mitigate the poorly managed threat of food insecurity amongst college students. Additionally, this pilot program could also prove useful and effective as a municipal or neighborhood-level intervention against food insecurity amongst the general population.

The Public Health Crisis of Juvenile Justice Involvement: A Social Determinants of Health Framework

Kellie Carlyle, Ph.D., associate professor
School of Medicine

Richmond is one of the top jurisdictions to commit youth into the juvenile justice system. Countless system-involved youth experience system failure in most, if not all, of the social determinants of health (SDOH) vital to healthy growth and successful transition into productive adult life. In collaboration with RISE for Youth, this project centers the voices of impacted youth and their communities to engage the public in understanding the connections between SDOH, the blatant disparities in detention rates of minority youth in Richmond, and the efficacy of a public health framework to support healthy juvenile growth and development. Our project addresses the upstream factors contributing to juvenile delinquency by advocating for relocating the Department of Juvenile Justice from under Public Safety and Homeland Security to Health and Human Resources; an approach consistent with best practices utilized by other states and demonstrated effective at moving towards the goal of zero youth detention.

Addressing Healthy Food Access and Food Insecurity through Data Analytics and Community Engagement

Sherif Abdelwahed, Ph.D., professor
College of Engineering

Food deserts, which are generally defined as areas in which it is difficult to buy affordable, high-quality fresh food, often prevent underserved and low-income communities from accessing healthy food. This project aims to address the food insecurity problem in the Greater Richmond area, especially the East End and the Southside areas of Richmond which are potentially experiencing severe food insecurity, by engaging a wide range of food access-related stakeholders and utilizing the power of advanced data analytics. The intellectual merit of this work includes: (1) developing a fundamental understanding of challenges in food-insecure communities, (2) understanding the factors contributing to food insecurity, (3) developing a multi-sectoral database to address the issue, and (4) developing analytical methods to implement effective solutions and evaluate their impacts. In this project, we will use geospatial methods to improve granular accuracy in identifying food-insecure populations, their socio-economic characteristics, and advanced modeling to predict food-service demands

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