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Educational: Getting to Know Project Reach From Within

Over the past four years, the Penn State College of Medicine REACH project has been working in the Lebanon and Berks community. With the grant funding, the program builds strong partnerships, makes connections, guides and supports programs and assists with projects across both counties. We are proud to work in your community and want to share more about the REACH project.

Laurie Crawford, Research Project Manager/Penn State REACH

Over the past four years, the Penn State College of Medicine REACH project has been working in the Lebanon and Berks community. With the grant funding, the program builds strong partnerships, makes connections, guides and supports programs and assists with projects across both counties. We are proud to work in your community and want to share more about the REACH project.

Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) is a national program administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities. REACH celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2019. Through REACH, recipients plan and carry out local, culturally appropriate programs to address a wide range of health issues among Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Alaska Native persons. The local program focuses on the Hispanic and Latino populations in Lebanon and Berks County using culturally tailored interventions to address preventable risk behaviors. The program focuses on breastfeeding, diabetes prevention, physical activity, nutrition and community clinical linkages.

With a strong team of 6, including our Community Health Worker, Madeline Bermudez, the REACH team is able to build relationships with local organizations, collect valuable information about needs in the community, build local connections and assist with programs. Madeline is passionate about providing a connection to resources for the Hispanic and Latino community. She meets with local church members, businesses, organizations and non-profits to bring resources and information directly to community members. She helps with the local farmers markets, Veggie Rx programs, providing information about the Farmers Market Nutrition Program as well as Food Access information.

Our team is led by Andrea Murray, the Program Director. Andrea has been with the REACH team since the grant was awarded. She spends her days building strong relationships and coalitions to ensure that the REACH work sustains and grows into the future. She speaks at conferences, sits on committees and task forces to ensure that the needs of the community are met with ideas, creativity, and solution based programs. She shares the REACH work on a broader scale, taking the health disparities data and stories of our community to the state and national level.

Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, the REACH team was awarded an additional grant to work in our region on COVID and FLU vaccine initiatives. Under the leadership of Darilyn Collazo-Rivera, our Project Coordinator, the REACH team was able to develop a multi-layered approach to educate and vaccinate our community members in the 7 county region. Through culturally appropriate materials, infographics and marketing campaigns, and trusted messenger outreach, the team strives to protect our community against COVID 19 and FLU over the last two years and continues to share stories and information with the community. Darilyn also leads our survey team, helping to develop valuable databases and collecting research to better serve our populations and improve our program impact.

Supporting our partners in the community is executed with our Project Coordinators, Evelyn Marin and Janelle Gomez. They work directly with our partners to support the programs, make connections and build in research to improve programming. Evelyn leads our breastfeeding initiatives, working with employers and community members, gathering data, leading focus groups, identifying barriers and finding creative solutions to improve outcomes in breastfeeding. She has lead a reminder program with our local partner, Lebanon Family Health Services, to encourage participants to use their Farmers Market Nutrition vouchers as well as nutrition information. She has created local food access maps, written valuable manuscripts and lead research in this field. Evelyn will be leaving the team this year to continue her education to become a physician. We are proud of her!

Laurie Crawford and Janelle Gomez are new members to the team. Janelle works in the community clinical linkages and physical activity programs. She is currently working with our partner, the Community Health Council, to support their CUE community calendar and improve communication in sharing valuable health information. Janelle is working with our summer interns to develop a park assessment tool to inventory, evaluate and collect interviews in our local parks to improve the resources for improvements. She assists at community events and supports the development of our programs.

REACH has built over 25 partnerships in the community. Laurie serves as the Project Manager and works to organize and move the partner projects forward. With her experience and passion for the Lebanon community, she works closely to improve physical activity corridors with trails, bike lanes and safe routes. The REACH project continues to support the efforts of the Lebanon Valley Tennis Association,  City of Lebanon’s Liberty Trail Park, Coleman Park projects and the Wengert Memorial Park. Building more recreational opportunities and corridors to physical activity is a focus for our team. Laurie is especially proud of our newest partnership with the Lebanon Valley Bike Coalition. Together, they were able to create the Lebanon Bicycle Recycle. This new initiative will bring bikes to our local schools and community, offering everyone the opportunity to ride a bike and become more physically active.

None of the REACH work would be possible without the vision and leadership from our physicians at Penn State College of Medicine. Dr. Jennifer Krashnewski, Dr. William Calo and Dr. Betsy Aumiller oversee the entire REACH project, guide the vision, ensure the quality of the program, and assist with evaluation. We have a host of support from other colleagues, interns and students who improve and help further our work.  As we finish up the 5 years of this REACH project, we are excited to look at refunding, establish sustainability goals with our partners and continue our work in the community.

This serves as an introduction to our Penn State College of Medicine REACH team and some of our programs. Each month, we will submit articles to Q’Hubo News to share with the community about our partner organizations, research and health information and continue conversations around health equity and opportunities in our Lebanon community. Please visit our website: https://reachberkslebanon.com/ and our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ECPAREACH/

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