Why we organized this special session. Regardless of where teams are on their three-year IRL journey, fellows have been sharing how their communities are responding to the norm-altering disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, structural racism, murders of our Black community members, and political turmoil surrounding the presidential election. Fellows have also been sharing the challenge of continuing their research and community engagement activities in a way that centers community voice during this unprecedented time. The January 2021 cross-cohort virtual forum was designed to share IRL teams’ common ground and leverage their experiences tackling community engagement and research challenges.
community engaged research
Since the first outbreak of COVID-19 in the early spring of 2020, IRL leadership has adapted to accommodate and support its fellows. Our fellows have had to quickly figure out how to make dramatic changes to their research and community engagement plans. Fellows across cohorts expressed their interest and need to learn from and share with one another successful and sustainable practices in connecting with and engaging their communities while carrying out their IRL projects.
As a team, we’re all involved in work with criminal justice populations. We’ve been particularly interested in how we can provide better access to substance use and mental health treatment among folks who are under community supervision, so people who are on probation or parole.
We proposed to do a pilot study integrating telehealth counseling into a probation parole office setting. We have a lot of folks in Arkansas who live in very rural communities. They have poor access to behavioral health treatment, yet they’re under community supervision. They’re mandated to come in and interact with their probation parole officer. Plus, if they’re required to attend treatment, they’ll have to find a way to actually show up. We figured if we integrate all this, folks could go to their probation office and get more services so they wouldn’t have to show up a bunch of different times. We designed a telehealth intervention, six counseling sessions.
We started enrolling people in that, and then COVID hit. Our probation parole offices had to shut down. We were focusing on one area, one office, and now we’re taking a step back and saying, “Ok. Let’s talk to other area offices that serve rural areas.”
My team members are Pooja Tandon, a pediatrician and Cary Simmons, a landscape architect. Our project is about schoolyard conversions – to explore how green schoolyards can become community parks – and we’re working in the city of Tacoma, Washington. Cary and the Trust for Public Land (TPL), our community partner, has analyzed communities all around the Puget Sound area. They’ve found that underserved neighborhoods often have a dearth of parks, and that’s the situation in our study location.
Our team partnered with the I AM ABLE Center for Family Development on the West Side of Chicago. They are a wellness and mental health center. They created a model – TR4IM (Trauma Response and Intervention Movement). We’re working with them to do a program evaluation of that particular model and building capacity so they can do evaluation of the work moving forward. That might help them seek additional funding.
Somewhat separately, we’re doing qualitative work with people who have been part of the program, to get their feedback and see if there are barriers to success or things that people who are engaged in the program think would be a good idea to consider shifting.
We are working in Hearne, a small, rural community in east central Texas. We originally planned to address substance use health disparities. Through our first year of research we learned from the community that was a symptom, but one of the underlying reasons was lack of opportunities for youth. We reprogrammed our project to look at increasing opportunities. We’re using a process called “human-centered design” or “design thinking” to engage youth to develop their own program, set of products, or whatever the result is. We don’t have the answer at the beginning of the process. We’ll work with youth over the next year and a half to develop their program and then pilot test it.