Skip to main content

Healthy urban community development study awarded CTSI funding

Study on Healthy Urban Community Development Gets Support from UR CTSI

In a neighborhood with 28 corner stores and one small supermarket, many residents report eating less than one vegetable a day. The disparities in access to healthy foods and health outcomes are well documented in Rochester’s Beechwood community. 
In addition to high incidents of chronic disease, more than 40 percent of families in this urban neighborhood report experiencing food insecurity most months, according to a recent survey conducted by a team of community-university researchers. In studies of food access and family and community well-being, the impacts of food deserts on health are well documented, as are the impacts of food insecurity on stress, depression, and family mental health.
However, the Beechwood community is changing and transforming through the efforts of many engaged community members and activists.  In a new initiative, the Warner School of Education and this community are building on their seven-year collaborative cycles of research and implementation to address food access and health in the intersections they have found between food, community, and family well-being.
Through a new Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) Pipeline-to-Pilot award from the University of Rochester’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), community development experts Joyce Duckles, associate professor in human development at the Warner School of Education, and George Moses, executive director of North East Area Development Inc., have been awarded the one-year CTSI funding for their collaborative research project entitled “Growing a Healthy Community: Families Co-Constructing Community Spaces and Sustainable Access to Fresh Food.”
Led by co-principal investigators Duckles and Moses, with support from graduate students Silvia Caraballo and Brandi Hayes, ENGOAL participants (Engaging Older Adult Learners as Health Researchers) Ms. Pam, Vernice Murphy, and Doreen Young and community stakeholders, the study builds on past work and current understandings of challenges to food well-being. Members of the research team have led other initiatives in Rochester’s northeast area, including the Freedom Market transformation project, the Beechwood Greenhouse Collaborative, and other initiatives that focus on transforming the community through food and health well-being and education.  The Beechwood neighborhood is also home to East High School, John James Audubon School 33 and the Freedom School, all supported by the University of Rochester, NEAD, and other community groups and committed to looking broadly at the well-being of families and youth in this community. 
“The Beechwood community continues to transform through the efforts of many engaged community members and activists,” Duckles explains. “We embrace collaborating as a team of co-researchers, co-implementers and co-authors as we gather and analyze data together, support spaces and practices of family well-being, and share our findings with the community in meaningful ways.”
community member The diverse and intergenerational research team will examine the impacts of local community practices and initiatives that support food well-being and the active co-construction of community gardens and gathering spaces through the Freedom Market and the Beechwood Greenhouse Collaborative and across the Beechwood community. Specifically, the team will look more closely at how families access food in the Beechwood neighborhood, what it means to a neighborhood to have access to fresh produce, and how community members co-construct spaces that support health and sustainable change. 
The goal of the study is to address issues of social, economic, and environmental justice by gathering pilot data to inform the design and implementation of sustainable access to fresh foods and community gathering places.
Using a mixed methods research approach that includes surveys, interviews, bi-weekly team meetings and events, the study will have recruited roughly 120 participants, primarily Beechwood community stakeholders and residents, over the course of 12 months.
The ENGOAL researchers have been conducting surveys and doing interviews as part of the research team. They are enthusiastic about their roles in the study and the changes they see happening in their community.

“I just appreciate the research group that we’re in because we’re trying to grow a healthier neighborhood in the Beechwood area,” says Ms. Pam, “and this has gotten me so excited about vegetables. I just have vegetables on my mind every day. If I don’t eat vegetables every day, it just seems like something is missing. If you’re excited about something, you can get other people excited about something, and if you are really invested in what you’re talking about, they’ll get excited about it too.”
And, Ms. Pam adds that it’s been really great trying to teach other people.

“That’s what we needed,” she explains. “Being empowered to teach other people about it. Showing them that we can change our eating. Now, I’m really paying attention to it and wanting to pass it on.”
Findings from this study will allow the team of community-university researchers to gather the preliminary data they need to compete for federal and other external funding.
Duckles conducts research on family engagement and community development through critical grounded theory and participatory research practices. Her recent scholarship interests include a seven-year ethnographic collaborative project on urban transformation and developing and researching the ENGOAL program, a collaborative endeavor with colleagues from the Warner School and the School of Nursing to train and support older adults as health researchers. She has presented widely on the relational strategies and models of transformation emerging from both of these projects, on supporting neighborhood and family well-being, and on the inequalities and disparities across community and health through re-framing notions of collaborative research and publicly engaged scholarship. She received her PhD in human development from the Warner School in 2012.
The CBPR Pipeline-to-Pilot provides up to $15,000 for six to 12 months to stimulate research partnerships between University of Rochester faculty and community-based organizations in the greater Rochester area. Projects aim to address a local public health issue using a CBPR approach with an eye to develop a pilot grant and/or a larger, independently-funded study.