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Three faculty members at the University of South Alabama Center for Healthy Communities (CHC) recently received the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Health and Human Services Award from the People United to Advance the Dream Mobile, Inc. (PUAD) – a local nonprofit organization that encourages unity and promotes peace and harmony in the community.
The CHC is the lead entity within the USA College of Medicine for coordinating community education, research, public service and health activities to help eliminate health disparities, foster access to health care for underserved populations and enhance the capacity of individuals to better participate in decision making about their health.
Dr. Errol Crook, Professor and Abraham Mitchell Chair of Internal Medicine at the USA College of Medicine and director of the USA Center for Healthy Communities; Dr. Martha Arrieta, director of research at the USA Center for Healthy Communities; and Dr. Roma Hanks, co-core director of community outreach at the USA Center for Healthy Communities, were presented the award at the PUAD Second Annual Black Tie Gala – an award ceremony recognizing individuals in the Mobile community for their dedication and service to enrich the lives of others.
According to Dr. Crook, the Health and Human Service Award – presented to individuals and organizations who work to address health disparities through research and community engagement – represents the mission and values of CHC.
“CHC focuses on health in a holistic sense by promoting fair opportunities for everyone to pursue happiness, be safe and live a healthy lifestyle,” Dr. Crook said. “CHC allows people throughout the greater Mobile area that are civic minded and have a specific interest in pursuing a healthy way of life to link with others who are like minded. When they come together, their efforts are additive and impactful, causing synergistic effects throughout the community.”
Dr. Arrieta said the award holds tremendous value as it provides a new impetus and renewed commitment to continue the Center for Healthy Communities’ work to move the needle in the direction of health equity. “It also validates our effort to create a meaningful connection with the residents of the USA Medical Center service area,” she said. “Based on participatory research principles, we have engaged community leaders, stakeholders and community members as partners in research studies and as leaders of projects aimed at improving community health. The award tells us that we have made progress toward earning a measure of trust and respect from the community through our 14 years of dedicated effort.”
Dr. Hanks credits her life stage for giving the award a deeper meaning. “I can remember watching TV as the events of Dr. King’s life and leadership unfolded,” she said. “Being part of this honor from a group committed to keeping Dr. King’s dream alive gives me great hope for the future. We need to continue to raise issues and to make sure that voices are heard.”
According to Dr. Hanks, the award also speaks to the dedication CHC has to community outreach. Community Health Advocates (CHA) – volunteers who work with the CHC to support the fight against health disparities and to promote a healthy lifestyle to those in need – assist their communities by bringing awareness and education to specific health issues.
“The CHA program has taught me what true commitment to health and community looks like in action,” Dr. Hanks said. “Our CHAs give tirelessly to ensure that their communities have accurate, relevant and culturally competent health messages. Whether they are conducting a health fair, giving a lecture, or building a community garden, they are fully engaged in the process and outcome.”
Dr. Crook said a long-time CHA, Dr. Bobbie Holt-Ragler, nominated CHC for the award. “Bobbie, who received the award in 2017, has been with us for over a decade,” he said. “It was incredibly heartwarming that one of our partners recognized our value and thought we were worthy of this award.”
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