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Public Health with Community Does It

Public Health with Community Does It

Community Does It is a non-profit organization that applies Community-Based Participatory Action Research methods (CBPAR) and grassroots organizing principles to engage and empower members of marginalized populations in Dallas to co-lead initiatives to bring equitable access to quality public health in their own communities.

Q1: Grayson Mask: Can you share when the organization officially started and the background that led to its founding?

A1: Christine Roman: While in New York City, where I was the principal of a network of schools called Cristo Rey Network, I noticed Dallas lacked a Cristo Rey school despite being one of the largest cities in the nation. This observation led me to apply for the founding principal position, move here, and establish such a school with a great team. My introduction to the local Dallas community of Pleasant Grove was through this initiative. My practice has always emphasized partnership with families in the education of their children, trusting parents as experts on their child and positioning myself as an expert in my educational role, whether as a math teacher or an administrator.

Q2: Grayson Mask: What motivated your transition towards community organizing and focusing on mental health within the community?

A2: Christine Roman: My journey into community organizing began with my doctoral studies in educational leadership, where I explored the relationship between parents and schools, especially in low-income, Spanish-speaking Latino communities. This exploration led to my interest in community organizing as a means to empower people, helping them become self-advocates by providing them with facts and tools. After leaving my position at Cristo Rey in February 2021, I started to dream about integrating my careers, theories, and practices to make a tangible impact on the community. Within three weeks of leaving Cristo Rey, I began gathering community members to focus on identifying needs, which surprisingly led to mental health as a primary concern, despite cultural stigmas.

Q3: Grayson Mask: How did you gather insights into the community’s mental health needs and preferences?

A3: Christine Roman: To understand the community’s mental health needs and preferences, I organized three focus groups—two in Spanish and one in English—with community members, educators, and individuals who have worked with minors in the community. The majority of participants were mothers, along with a few fathers. These sessions were designed to dig deeper than surface-level issues and aimed to identify the root causes of mental health challenges in order to focus on prevention as a primary goal. This public health approach emphasized education as a means of prevention, allowing participants to make more informed decisions regarding their health and the health of their families.

Q4: Grayson Mask: What were the main findings from the focus groups regarding mental health needs in the community?

A4: Christine Roman: The focus groups revealed three main insights into the community’s mental health needs:

  • Affordable and Accessible Therapy: The community expressed a need for affordable therapy options, especially given that many families are uninsured or underinsured. Accessibility was also a concern, with families seeking therapy services that respect their knowledge and include them in the care process, irrespective of the language spoken.
  • Inclusivity and Respect for Parental Agency: There was a strong desire for therapy services that respect parents’ agency, including them in the process and providing clear communication about their child’s condition and how they can support at home.
  • Cultural Sensitivity and Bilingual Services: Participants highlighted the importance of therapy that respects and understands their cultural values and identity, and the need for services to be available in both English and Spanish to overcome language barriers.

Q5: Grayson Mask: What specific tools and strategies did the community express a need for in order to support their children’s mental health?

A5: Christine Roman: The community, particularly mothers, voiced a need for advocacy tools, strategies, and language to better support and defend their children’s mental health needs. They expressed frustration at returning from appointments without actionable information or understanding, which hindered their ability to communicate effectively about their child’s needs with family members, schools, and healthcare providers. The desire was for education that would empower them to advocate for their children against common misunderstandings or dismissive attitudes towards mental health issues.

Q6: Grayson Mask: What barriers did you identify that prevented the community from accessing existing mental health resources?

A6: Christine Roman: Several key barriers to accessing mental health resources were identified:

  • Geographical Challenges: A significant lack of mental health services within the community itself, with no center for mental health services in the 75217 area, leading to difficulties for those unable to travel far or outside specific boundaries.
  • Language Barriers: The need for services that accommodate non-English speakers or those with limited English proficiency, which was not adequately met by existing services.
  • Cultural and Respectful Engagement: The community felt that existing services did not respect them as knowledgeable parents or dignify their cultural values and experiences, which deterred them from seeking help.

Q7: Grayson Mask: How did you respond to the community’s feedback and needs identified through the focus groups?

A7: Christine Roman: In response to the community’s feedback, I conducted an analysis of the focus group data and presented the findings back to the community to verify my understanding of their needs. The positive reception and confirmation of these needs led to the creation of the “Community Does It” initiative, a name that reflects the ethos of community-driven action and collaboration. This initiative was designed to directly address the identified gaps and barriers, providing targeted mental health services, education, and advocacy tools within the community. It represents a model where the solutions and services are developed not for the community but with the community, emphasizing a partnership approach.

Q8: Grayson Mask: What are the planned services for the newly proposed mental health center, and how do they reflect the community’s needs?

A8: Christine Roman: The center, inspired by the community’s feedback, offers three core services designed to meet their identified needs:

  • Therapy: Focused on being affordable ($25 per session), inclusive (family and bilingual services), and culturally sensitive, primarily serving minors and young adults. The therapy services are provided by professionals from Pleasant Grove or similar communities, with a commitment to employing predominantly Latino staff to reflect our target population.
  • Resource Connection: This service aims to bridge the community with existing resources, ensuring that services are not duplicated but rather complemented. The focus has been on fostering collaborations that bring more resources to the community and make existing services more accessible to our targeted populations.
  • Educational Programs: Offering workshops and educational sessions at no cost, focusing on prevention, information dissemination, and equipping families with tools and strategies. This component addresses the community’s request for education on mental health, aiming to empower individuals, especially women, with confidence and knowledge to support their families effectively.

These services are directly shaped by the community’s expressed needs for affordable, accessible, and culturally appropriate mental health support, emphasizing education, resource connection, and therapeutic interventions.

Q9: Grayson Mask: How were the workshops developed, and what unique approaches do you employ to engage participants, particularly women?

A9: Christine Roman: The workshops were developed in close collaboration with the community, particularly focusing on empowering women by helping them recognize and affirm their strengths. One of our initial and favorite workshops, titled “Do You Know You Have Superpowers?” is designed to help women identify their inherent strengths through self-affirmation strategies. These workshops, which span over four sessions, aim to build confidence by working through fears, self-sabotage, and teaching how to transfer learned skills to their children and community. We also cover a wide range of topics requested by the community, including arts and therapy, special education, rights advocacy, and assertive communication. Each workshop is crafted based on community feedback, ensuring relevance and effectiveness. These sessions are highly interactive, incorporating storytelling and practical strategies to foster engagement and learning.

Q10: Grayson Mask: Were there any challenges in recruiting trained specialists and counselors for the workshops and therapy services? Do participants have any favorites among the specialists?

A10: Christine Roman: Recruiting staff and specialists for our center was approached with a visionary perspective. Despite initial skepticism about the availability of counselors, especially bilingual ones, the vision of serving our community attracted many professionals. The key was to find individuals passionate about making a difference in their own or similar communities, especially those interested in working within a bilingual setting. Our recruitment success also hinged on offering a distributed leadership model, emphasizing collaboration, autonomy, and respect for each professional’s expertise. This approach not only made it easier to find the right people but also attracted those who were eager to contribute to a community-centric initiative. The professionals we attracted were already aligned with our mission, including individuals with experience in educational and family support roles, such as a workshop leader with a background in working with families in Puerto Rico. This alignment of vision and values facilitated the recruitment of dedicated and capable staff for our programs.

Our approach to staffing and partnership focuses on leveraging the unique strengths and connections individuals have with the community, including counselors from Pleasant Grove or Oak Cliff who are excited to contribute to their home areas. We prioritize filling any gaps in preparation or training by investing in our staff’s development, ensuring they possess the necessary credentials and skills. This philosophy extends to various roles within our organization, such as our development director, who, despite lacking prior experience in grant writing, was trained and coached to excel in his position due to his innate writing talent and deep understanding of the community.

To address specific needs, we collaborate with expert partners whose missions align with ours. For example, we partner with organizations like PACT for special education workshops, the Center for Brain Health for parenting series based on BrainHealth research, and the Momentous Institute for group therapy sessions. These partnerships allow us to offer a broad range of specialized services without the need to have all expertise in-house. This multidisciplinary and collaborative approach enables us to provide tailored support to our community, addressing its unique needs efficiently and effectively. Regarding the need for additional specialists, our team has identified specific areas where expertise is lacking, and we’re actively seeking to fill these gaps. This targeted approach ensures that we can offer comprehensive support to our community, addressing both general and specific mental health and educational needs.

Q11: Grayson Mask: Besides professional contributions, are there other ways individuals can support your organization, perhaps through volunteering or other means?

A11: Christine Roman: Yes, there are various ways for individuals to get involved beyond professional contributions. Volunteers are crucial, especially those with expertise in mental health, education, or related fields. For instance, we welcome volunteers interested in developing curriculum, conducting workshops, or evaluating our tools to ensure alignment with the latest research and best practices. Additionally, community-driven fundraising initiatives play a significant role in our sustainability. A notable example is the thrift store idea proposed by one of the moms in our community. This store, located within the Bazaar where our center operates, is set to open soon, with all profits supporting the center’s operations. We seek volunteers to assist with running the thrift store and donations of items to sell. This effort not only contributes financially to our mission but also strengthens community engagement and ownership of the project. Engaging with us on social media, calling for information, and volunteering time at the thrift store are all valuable ways to support our work and help maintain affordable access to our services.

Q12: Are there any goals for 2024?

A12: Christine Roman: Our key goal moving into the next year is to enhance our focus on youth engagement and programming. Recognizing a gap in resources for the youth in our community, we’ve initiated partnerships, such as with Primos, another nonprofit from Pleasant Grove, to leverage their expertise in youth mentorship. We’ve also appointed a youth manager from the community to spearhead the creation of new programming tailored to the interests and needs of young people. This effort includes conducting focus groups with the youth to directly understand their preferences and desires for activities and programs offered by the center.

The initiatives under development aim to provide engaging, fun, and educational activities for the youth, such as goal-setting workshops and calming crafts like leather wallet making, led by community members who serve as role models and mentors. These programs not only offer meaningful and enjoyable activities but also address parents’ concerns about the lack of resources and safe spaces for their children outside of home and electronic devices. Our overarching goal is to empower the youth to take leadership roles within these initiatives, making them active contributors to the community’s development and ensuring they have access to constructive and enjoyable activities within their own community.

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