Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice Promotes Healthy Lifestyles With Community Teamworks Initiative

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | | 215-898-4820April 23, 2012

Health fairs serve a useful purpose, but the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania has figured out a way to make them even more useful to the community, all while allowing students, faculty, staff and alumni to participate in team-building activities.

Modeled after Goldman Sach’s Community Teamworks in New York City, the Community Teamworks program was launched earlier this semester when Ashley Mapp, its director, coordinated with residents in West Philadelphia to gain a better understanding of their needs.

After soliciting suggestions from neighborhood residents and the entire Social Policy & Practice community, program organizers were able to select a few key projects on which to focus, including the April 28 Sayre Health Center fair.

For several years, the Center has hosted health fairs, providing body mass index counseling, blood pressure screenings and other vital sign measurements, coupled with patient education.

But, this is the first year the Sayre Health Center has had a full-time managing social worker, along with student interns and a social health program. 

“In addition to our traditional health fair, we’ve added a social work point of view to planning this event,” says Kiasha Huling, the manager of social health services and patient counseling support provider at the Center and an alumna of the School.  “This year, we’re focusing on connecting individuals to the resources that will help to support them in healthier outcomes, creating awareness about the Center’s approach to health care and just really having a fun, active day.”

Hosted at Sayre High School from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Social Policy & Practice students, faculty, alumni and staff will participate in a variety of volunteer opportunities. 

“Members of the School of Social Policy & Practice community can volunteer as a part of our set-up team, welcome and registration team, outreach team, parking attendants, referees, arts and crafts coordinators, or body mass index station assistants to assist doctors and medical students in providing participants with their BMIs,” Mapp explains.  “Volunteers can also be sticker notaries, giving out stickers for every time a participant completes a health fair station, or be a part of the clean-up team.  There’s a place for everyone.”

The health fair brings together more than 30 organizations.  Event organizers hope that the vendors at the health fair -- providers and agencies -- will collaborate during the event to strengthen their networks and help to deliver even better services.

While most of the event will take place outside in the parking lot and on the football field, participants can find the free eye exams inside the health center.  They can also find yoga classes in one of the 10 health topic “suites,” ranging from wellness to safety to senior care and cardiovascular health.

When Colleen Lake and Marcy Slick, both social-work grad students, nominated Sayre as a potential candidate, Mapp thought it would be a perfect opportunity for Community Teamworks to engage locally and to build esprit de corps among students, staff, faculty and alumni.

Slick, 22, from Pottstown, Pa., says she nominated the project because “the Health Fair is a great opportunity for the School of Social Policy & Practice community to interact with the West Philly community.” 

Lake, also 22, from Chicago, says volunteers from the School will play a major role in this year’s health fair. 

“Community Teamworks will provide assistance with advertising for the event, purchasing T-shirts for participants, providing supplies and refreshments, recruiting at least 50 volunteers from Social Policy & Practice and preparing them for their responsibilities at the health fair,” Lake says.  “We hope that they will gain a deeper understanding of the culture in West Philadelphia through direct engagement with community members and organizations.”

Health fair organizers are expecting a large turnout this year.

“Fundamentally, we want to bring a wide range of services and resources together in one location for the community.  We hope that by offering same-day services like eye exams, health fair attendees will walk away more informed and connected to the resources right here in the neighborhood,” Lake says.

Richard J. Gelles, the School’s dean, says the project’s goals support Penn’s commitment to local engagement, but it also takes interdisciplinary collaboration and cooperation to a new level.

“Community Teamworks is a meaningful way to build a stronger community within the School,” Gelles says.  “It’s not often that students in our Penn Aging Concentration program are able to work side by side with students from our Non-Profit/Non-Governmental Organization Leadership program to better our neighborhoods.

"This initiative enables students from our five degree programs to work alongside faculty, staff and alumni on projects that will have a positive impact on organizations and agencies throughout the city," Gelles explains. "Our students already contribute more than 250,000 service hours each year across the region through internships, practicums and field placements, but, as proactive agents of social change, we believe that there is always more than can be done."

While this semester they started small and involved only people affiliated with the School of Social Policy & Practice, School administrators are optimistic that the program will eventually expand to include other schools and organizations across Penn.

"Community Teamworks is another initiative from the School of Social Policy & Practice designed to illustrate our commitment to working with our neighbors," Mapp says.

Plans are already underway to organize next semester’s Community Teamworks activities.  In mid-September, volunteers plan to participate in the Guest Chef program at the Ronald McDonald House for the second time