By Precious Smith
In a community where families experienced historical and cultural mistrust, local clinicians are working to re-establish connections between local institutions and the residents around them. That was the aim of a Town Hall for a Gert Town Research Project held on April 30, 2018 at Xavier University’s Community Outreach Center. When links are renewed, there is better participation in these types of collaborative projects, said Cirecie Olatunji, the Director and Founder of the Xavier University Community Outreach Center, as she addressed residents.
The town hall served as the culminating event for the Clinical Needs Assessment in a Gert Town Project headed by Olatunji, an Associate Professor of Counseling at Xavier, Meghan Berger, a Xavier graduate, and students in Xavier’s Graduate Counseling Program. The owner of the community’s McDonald’s Branch, Terry Scott, also attended the event to learn more about how corporate entities in the community can better serve residents.
“Inclusive participation that emphasizes authentic collaboration with the community group before, during, and after the research is so important,” Olatunji said.
Gert Town is labeled as dangerous, with high crime and abandoned homes.
“Despite these stigmas held against Gert Town, my fellow peers and I experienced nothing short of genuine conversations and warm greetings from many of the Gert Town residents,” Berger said.
Conducting a needs assessment focuses on families within the community by understanding their specific needs and listening to the community’s voices. “We can’t just come in and do something for the community. That’s simply not enough. We need to do stuff with the community,” Berger said.
Clinical Needs Assessment mutually involves the community as a representative in the research team, Berger explained. “Researchers and the community in all phases of the research process [work] to improve health and well-being through taking action, including social change,” Berger added.
The Needs Assessment Project was set up as a research design. It identified and developed appropriate partnerships with the community as counselors conducted needs assessments to utilize the strengths of the families served. The three characteristics of the assessment consisted of co-learning, shared decision making and mutual ownership of the processes and products.
By using the community-as-client approach, Xavier students and alumni were able to conduct a psychosocial profile of the community to determine the counseling needs as articulated by Gert Town residents.
The Outreach Center’s mission is to seek out community involvement in a wide range of projects that ultimately sustain and support residents. “With Gert Town being just among the outskirts of the Community Outreach Center, their main goal is to raise the visibility of families living within the marginalized community, increase community engagement, integrate family services and build upon the strengths within each family,” said Angelle Guillard, a current resident of Gert Town.
Without residents’ involvement, the project would lack the necessary data to make meaningful change. “We attempted to encapsulate the entire experience to reveal residents’ perceptions of their overall mental health and well-being,” Berger said.
Tiffany Henderson, a former Gert Town resident, said her involvement and contribution not only with the Xavier University Community Outreach Center but also with the Needs Assessment Project was an important exercise to revive her community. “I was baptized down the road at Zion and feel overwhelmed with joy to know I was able to give the residents of my community a voice,” Henderson said.
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