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Challenges to grassroots, community-based environment and health projects: Lessons for supporters

Neenah Estrella-Luna, MPH, Law, Policy, and Society, Northeastern University, 45 Lexington Street, #2, Boston, MA 02128, 302-438-9817, neenah@starluna.net and Marcos J. Luna, Urban Affairs and Public Policy, University of Delaware, Graham Hall, Academy Street, Newark, DE 19716.

Grassroots, community-based environment and health projects are inherently political and controversial. To be successful, such programs must call attention to problems that are rooted in longstanding systems of inequities. Addressing these problems requires bringing affected communities out of despondency as well as demanding attention from local and state leaders. Because so much is at stake, the design of such programs must be planned carefully, with painstaking attention to the unique needs of the affected community, to the development of goals and objectives, and to the involvement of capable partners and committed allies. From the institutional perspective, the success of community-based projects can be hit and miss. An evaluation of the Urban Health and Environment Learning Project in Wilmington, Delaware provides important lessons for funders and supporters. In particular, we have found that funders and other supporters of grassroots projects need to provide much more support and flexibility to such projects. Activists and community-based organizations in marginalized communities require more time to develop the experience and skills needed to achieve their goals and objectives. Without this extra time and help, grassroots advocates and the community they represent may be set up for a political pitfall that will have reverberations into the future. Failure often confirms and reinforces entrenched and institutionalized stereotypes. Worse, it justifies withholding resources from the community in the future. From the community perspective, such failurest generate and reinforce suspicion and hostility toward agencies providing the resources, which feeds existing despondency, furthering the cycle of disempowerment that is at the root of the health and social problems such communities suffer.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the session, the participant (learner) in this session will be able to

Keywords: Community Programs, Community Involvement

Related Web page: www.urbanhelp.org

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
Organization/institution whose products or services will be discussed: UHELP, the Urban Health and Environment Learning Project
I have a significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.
Relationship: I was the director of this project

Environmental Justice and Community-Based Public Health

The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA