Former MPH Students Set out to Create Sustainable Community Health
Recent MPH graduates, Meera Bhakta and Darryl Pastor, graduated from the Behavioral Science and Community Health (BSCH) Department with true community-based public health experience they obtained through working with the local organization, SWAG.
SWAG stands for the Southwest Advocacy Group and was developed due to a noticeable disparity in a particular part of Gainesville referred to as the SW Triangle.
After hearing about a nutrition grant from the American Medical Association, Bhakta and Pastor dedicated two semesters to help MD/PhD student, Martin Wegman, develop, implement, and evaluate a multi-component intervention to primarily increase fruit and vegetable consumption.
Community gardens, connecting farmers to a local convenience store, cooking demonstrations, and food vouchers were just some of the intervention components that were implemented. In an effort to meet the needs of the community, Bhakta and Pastor quickly learned that they needed to be flexible and comfortable with re-strategizing ways to reach the community.
“I came in way too optimistic about how much the community would embrace the program. It’s not just about encouraging people to eat fruits and vegetables, it’s about building the community and building trust in the community,” Pastor commented.
Bhakta expressed similar sentiments and commented, “You really need to be careful about entering a community with your own expectations.”
Although an evaluation is underway for the intervention efforts thus far, the goal is to keep the community involved so that the intervention can be sustained over time. Pastor enthusiastically spoke of trying to implement a farmer’s market, zumba classes, as well as a summer nutrition program for children.
Bhakta will be attending medical school in the Fall and Pastor is continuing to work for SWAG while planning his next step in his Public Health Career. They will be presenting their findings from their evaluation at the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) 141st Annual Meeting this November in Boston, MA.