St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center provided me the opportunity to engage with public health and the Baltimore community more extensively than my previous three years at Johns Hopkins. The internship experience was comprehensive. Engaging residents, developing research projects, translating materials, and developing marketing promotions are some of the tasks I tackled this semester. These tasks seem random and disconnected, but they are each integral component to a comprehensive and holistic approach to community development. Without residents, research into a neighborhood falls flat and misses the needs of the community. Without marketing, residents can go unaware of the potential aid from St. Ambrose and government. The key takeaway: holistic and comprehensive approaches to community programs are required for sustainability and impact.
In my first weeks, this mindset was difficult to get into. Public health course only shows the numbers, the quantitative data on human lives. But there is a significant limitation to this. A public health organization depends on connecting with people, knowing their lives and the factors that affect them. To fully integrate into the work and impact of St. Ambrose, an understanding of the community and the lives within it are necessary. Who is the neighborhood leader? Do people trust their local grocery stores? What is their vision of an ideal neighborhood? These question deeper questions that encourage resident involvement are what makes-or-breaks a community development program regardless of the data. To highlight the importance, my first two weeks at St. Ambrose involved heavy reading and learning of Baltimore’s history, including segregation, redlining, gentrification, and racial injustice.
Two weeks were probably not enough, but they provided a catalyst for real connection with the neighborhood St. Ambrose works in. And this connection is developed extensively throughout the internship experience. Baltimore is no longer Johns Hopkins’ location, but the city where I call home. I learned the community power and culture Baltimore effortlessly produces. The opportunity to live and work within the city is inspiring.
This semester’s internship experience presented many challenges and obstacles that can be applied to future professional and life goals. The intricacies of successful health programming are overlooked in academic spaces. Developing a target program involved more than scientific research and investigation. There are logistical and human elements that must be considered for effective programming.
My time at St. Ambrose provided a holistic approach to target programming. My internship coincided with the development of a neighborhood health survey. This survey will help non-profits gain a better understanding of community needs and the impact of their programming. However, this process underscores that intervention is unique to a population; studies may support its use but are not evaluative measures of its potential success. The community needs active involvement in the development process to ensure a program catered to the needs of residents. However, community involvement in surveys is just the start.
Programming – once developed – needs successful marketing and connection to the residents it hopes to serve. For example, at St. Ambrose, a measure followed is the uptake of senior residents in community voucher programs for rent assistance and home repairs. Although the resources are there, many residents are unaware of how to gain access, presenting a significant barrier to the targeted population. As an intern, I helped develop marketing materials for residents. This includes electronic promotion, such as email flyers and social media posts, and physical promotion, such as postcards and flyers. Each method hopes to reach audiences with equity. Physical promotion is essential for those without reliable internet access of difficulties in accessing electronic media. Ensuring access to programing is of equal importance for the success and equity of an intervention.
For professional and life goals, awareness of the multi-faceted components of success intervention can inform the approaches for medical intervention. I can use this knowledge to provide valuable feedback to public health practitioners and medical professions in creating programming for those marginalized and neglected in American healthcare. A critical issue in public health research is the lack of “follow through.” Follow through refers to the common occurrence of researchers studying a population but failing to use the results in improving the populations health. Knowing how to facilitate this follow through can improve the impact of all public health measures and interventions.