Friday, December 19, 2014

Community at the Heart of Safe Routes to School and Feet First

THEory into ACTion 

A Bulletin of New Developments in Community Psychology Practice 
December, 2014

Mary C. Benton, Seattle

        Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Lisa Quinn, the Executive Director of Feet First, about the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) grant program under the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). The objective is to enable and support active commuting (walking and biking) by school children and families. The program is multi-faceted and involves a wide range of community partners in health, public safety, education, and transportation.

        Developing safe routes for children to commute to and from school is obviously important from a public safety perspective. However, the implications extend beyond just issues of safety and accessibility. Active commuting can play an important role in student health and readiness to learn. For example, children who actively commuted to school showed lower levels of body fat and obesity (Mendoza et al., 2011). Additional research has demonstrated better academic performance and better attendance (, 2014) among those who actively commute.

        From the beginning, community involvement is at the heart of the SRTS grant program. Indeed, inclusion into the program requires that the members of the school apply for the grant. Once accepted, the school community remains an active participant throughout the process, partnering with key government and community organizations to help make active commutes safer and more enjoyable. This is where Feet First comes in.

        Feet First, Washington’s only pedestrian advocacy nonprofit organization, works to ensure that all communities across Washington are walkable (Feet First, 2014). And one of the most unique things they do is something called a walking audit” – an assessment of the municipal geography, the routes pedestrians take, and the obstacles they face in walking and biking. For the SRTS grant, Feet First organized a walking audit for each school and surrounding neighborhoods. Participants were given clipboards and maps of commute routes; children were given digital camera: and all were instructed to record their observations on a worksheet. Members of the community who were unable to participate in the walking audit were given worksheets electronically so they could submit their observations.

        According to Quinn, the key to a successful audit is involving the local residents – people who know the area, who live or work there, and know what it’s like to walk or bike around the neighborhood. In the case of the SRTS program, community members, parents, teachers and students were encouraged to join in and share their observations and feedback during the walking audit. Says Quinn, “It makes a big difference having the school principal on the walk. Experiencing the walk first hand has greater impact than simply receiving a copy of the walking audit”. Participating in the walking audit engenders more buy-in and ownership of the program for all who participate.

        At the end of the audit, Feet First compiled a report based on the feedback provided; the report is used to identify and prioritize commute improvements. Improvements are subject to community input and span a wide range of solutions and project partners. Solutions included engineering improvements such as sidewalks and curb bulbs from the Seattle Department of Transporation (SDOT), increased enforcement of speed limits in school zones from the Seattle Police Department (SPD), and encouraging local residents to trim vegetation to improve vehicle and pedestrian sightlines. 

        Approaches and solutions are individualized for each school community depending on the strengths, needs and challenges. For example, one of the schools is located at the top of a steep hill with a 70-foot elevation change. Obviously, walking and biking to this school presents unique challenges requiring innovative solutions. The result is Hike and Bike Fridays where student bike trains are led by the school physical education teacher and volunteers from the Cascade Bicycle Club (another community partner) from the local coffee shop (this is Seattle) up the hill and to school. 
        At another school, barriers to a safe route to school were transformed into a community strength. One of the main routes to school was through a park where there were crime concerns. Instead of simply avoiding the park, the local community center, White Center Community Development Association (WCCDA), whose goals include helping parents get involved in their children’s education and helping them understand how to work within the school to effect change, established a parent-led Walking School Bus through the park. A Walking School Bus is a group of children walking to school with one or more adults. The Walking School Bus had many benefits including empowerment of multilingual, multicultural families and the attainment of greater community connections in addition to creating a safer route to school. 

        Regardless of the school, the one constant in the SRTS Program is community involvement in all steps of the process: from grant application, to walking audit, and to approaches and solutions. The community IS the client. Which makes sense because they are the ones experiencing the environment well beyond the school day.

Works Cited:

Feet First. (2014). Retrieved from

Let’s Move Schools. (2014) Retrieved from


Mendoza, J. A., Watson, K., Nguyen, N., Cerin, E., Baranowski, T., & Nicklas, T. A. (2011). 
Active commuting to school association with physical activity and adiposity among US youth. The Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 8, 488-495.

This is one of a series of bulletins highlighting the use of community psychology in practice. Comments, suggestions, and questions are welcome. Please direct them to Bill Berkowitz at

Friday, December 5, 2014

Making a difference: Community Practice for Social Change

by JJ Ramirez

        A person with a mission to help their community and make a positive change can take many routes to accomplish their goal. The most popular schooling route is social work. Once the degree in social work is obtained, many will assist specifically individual or families with counseling or health care access. For those that want to help on a larger scale continue their schooling and enter either the mezzo or macro fields. Mezzo social workers assist with entire neighborhoods and institutions by helping with community organizing and management. Macro is the highest level assisting with states and countries with lobbying, policy research and advocacy.

        The following infographic by Case Western Reserve Universities Online Masters of Science in Social Administration explains this further, describing the growth of the social work and today’s most influential community practice leaders (click on the image to enlarge).

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Using a Community Psychology Framework to Address the Digital Divide

THEory into ACTion

A Bulletin of New Developments in Community Psychology Practice
November, 2014

Brittney Cofield-Poole, North Carolina State University
Dawn X. Henderson, Winston-Salem State University

        A major goal of THEory into ACTion is to share innovations in community practice.  Nothing speaks innovation louder than advancements in technology over the past ten years (e.g., Google Glass, iPhone6, High Definition Television, etc.).  However, advancement alone is not indicative of access.  In fact, there is a digital divide across the world between individuals who have access to electronic technology (e.g., internet) and those who do not. According to Norris (2001), the digital divide encompasses three dimensions: 1) the global divide indicates disparities in Internet access between industrialized and developing countries; 2) the social divide indicates disparities between affluent and impoverished communities within these countries; and 3) the democratic divide indicates disparities between those who do and do not use digital resources to engage and participate in public life.  

        Developing countries and economically disadvantaged communities are faced with the challenge of accessing technologies and moving toward digital literacy. By improving digital literacy and resources, individuals can be empowered to access information and use technologies to address a variety of issues faced within their communities.

        For many citizens, accessing technologies and moving toward digital literacy can be challenging and difficult to navigate.  Programs that address the “digital divide” are needed, specifically those that provide technology access through outreach and education.  Responding to this need, Raleigh Digital Connectors is an initiative developed by the City of Raleigh (North Carolina) to increase youths’ digital literacy. The program is nationally renowned and provides “technology training and mentoring for youth, ages 14-21. The program offers young people a chance to expand 21st century technology skills, professional life skills, participation in open data projects, exploration of career pathways, and serve their communities” (Raleigh Digital Connectors, 2014).  Brittney Cofield-Poole, a doctoral student in Psychology in the Public Interest Program at North Carolina State University, is using her training in community psychology to drive this effort forward.  

        Cofield-Poole serves as the program’s Community Outreach Support Specialist and has been integral in working with Raleigh’s IT Department in conducting training for partnering organizations and developing and implementing evaluation. Competencies associated with empowerment, group processes, and community leadership are vital in her role and shape how she works with community partners, staff, and youth.  Not only does she develop programmatic evaluations that examine youth as civic participants, but she also designs interactive classroom activities that aim to increase students’ awareness as global citizens and engagement in service-learning projects. 

        For instance, youth are engaged in technology centered service-learning projects such as refurbishing computers for families in need and conducting digital literacy trainings in communities with limited technological capital.  She also works with youth in implementing the curriculum, which plays an important role in increasing youths’ knowledge of technology as a catalyst for promoting personal and economic success. Youth are engaged in discussions around the relationship between socio-economic status and access to technology and begin to see that there is value in technology access beyond a recreational capacity. 

        Cofield-Poole is a member of a small (three-person) IT team; however, each individual brings a unique perspective and serves as a champion for using technology in improving communities. The program manager focuses on the big picture of program sustainability, the instructor concentrates on class dynamics that promote technology relevancy, and Cofield-Poole brings a research-grounded toolkit that supports all facets of the program’s evolution.  In particular, she played an important role in developing a curriculum that was based on evidence-based models. Moreover, her previous experience in community-based participatory research and civic engagement assists the program in creating avenues that bolster youth as change agents and not simply passive recipients of afterschool services.   

        Using community psychology as a framework, Cofield-Poole embeds learning technology within concepts of ethics, the socio-ecological model, and social structure dynamics. This framework guides curriculum activities and trainings with other youth-serving departments within the city.  For example, when working with youth and other staff, a socio-ecological model is used to understand information dissemination across multiple systems.  Through discussions with youth and partners, everyone can envision how civic innovation and technology serve as useful tools in community development.  Above all, putting youth at the center of digital literacy and empowering them to go within their communities to develop projects creates a reciprocal process between youth and their contexts. 

        The values of community psychology and training also engender the use of multiple perspectives and strong research skills that incorporate both quantitative and qualitative methods in designing evaluation. To examine impact, the evaluation plan includes pre/post programmatic surveys and a mid-program focus group with youth.  Data collection is implemented at various phases of the project to examine the impact of participation on an individual level as well as to receive feedback [from stakeholders] to improve learning modules, program structure, and community integration.  

        There are challenges associated with transitioning from graduate training to the real world. Coursework and hypothetically-focused research papers do not provide the proper hands-on learning experience that tangible community work can give.   Cofield-Poole, for instance, faces the challenge of translating theory into practice and balancing community psychology principles and values within a government setting.  Often administrative structures can create barriers that make program expansion difficult to achieve.  For one example, engaging in systems change with bureaucratic limitations and in socio-political contexts requires a unique skill set and savvy to navigate. There are also tensions when one has to justify why community-oriented initiatives are worth the investment. By designing and implementing evaluation, Cofield-Poole aims to produce evidence that demonstrates the program is working. Through the evaluation plan, feedback loops have been created and have illustrated youth gains from participation in Raleigh Digital Connectors across a variety of outcomes.  

        The inclusion of a community psychology framework enhances the ways in which the program integrates youth, their experiences, and that of their contexts. Accordingly, empowering youth, strengthening community connections, and having a solid foundation in methodology are important in the program’s efforts in promoting digital literacy and addressing the digital divide.  

Works Cited:

Norris, P. (2001). Digital divide: Civic engagement, information poverty, and the Internet worldwide. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press

This is one of a series of bulletins highlighting the use of community psychology in practice. Comments, suggestions, and questions are welcome. Please direct them to Bill Berkowitz at

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Advances in Psychological Research on ME/CFS: Turning Theory into Action

THEory into ACTion

A Bulletin of New Developments in Community Psychology Practice 
October, 2014

Taylor Thorpe and Kelly O’Connor
Center for Community Research
DePaul University

        Turning theory into action is essential within the field of Community Psychology. For those of us focused on macro-level empowerment and social change, demonstrating the practical effectiveness of research findings in the field is crucial. Under the direction of Dr. Leonard Jason, DePaul University’s Center for Community Research currently hosts a number of projects exemplifying theory in action. One research focus of the Center is Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS).
        ME/CFS is currently a hot topic among researchers and physicians. The name “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” has led to many negative connotations, and in turn research suffered due to lack of funding and disbelief in the reality of the illness. Patients assert, and research supports, that fatigue is only one of many debilitating symptoms associated with this illness. Post-exertional malaise (feeling worse after exertion), memory and attention problems, sleep dysfunction, muscle and joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, and sore throat are all symptoms uniquely characteristic to ME/CFS. Further, the name “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” gives the impression that this illness is not to be taken seriously, making way for the colloquial reference to this condition as the “yuppie-flu” by some medical professionals – that is, everyone gets fatigued at some point or another, so what makes this patient group different from others? Currently, many efforts are being put forth to change the name so as to avoid downplaying and insulting the everyday reality of the patient community.
        The cause of the illness is not yet definitively known. Research suggests that mold may be one of the possible pathways to developing ME/CFS. Other research suggests viral infections lead to the development of this illness. At the Center for Community Research, one of our current NIH-funded studies, A Prospective Health Study of CFS Following Infectious Mononucleosis in College Students, aims to identify possible risk factors and biomarkers that predispose college students to develop CFS.
        Previous studies have assessed the prevalence of ME/CFS following infectious mononucleosis (IM), finding that 12% of those who contracted IM develop ME/CFS at 6 months. The current study aims to expand on these findings by comparing baseline data to data collected from students after the development of IM and ME/CFS at 6 and 12 months. Results from this study will provide information on the risk factors (psychological and physiological) and development of ME/CFS in college students.
        This study is an excellent example of theory in action in that the results hold implications for ME/CFS prevention and treatment.  Committing time to exploring possible physiological causes and trajectories of ME/CFS first validates the experiences and testimony of patients. It also contributes to the case definition of ME/CFS, which thereby debunks myths and negative connotations associated with the illness (i.e., that it is not a real or serious illness). By assessing biomarkers, symptoms, possible risk factors, and causes associated with ME/CFS, the legitimacy of the illness is established and steps towards awareness, prevention and treatment are made.
        Additionally, ME/CFS research has traditionally gathered data from patients within clinics or physician-referred patients, samples of which have been predominantly white, middle-class women. This sampling bias has further encouraged the stigma towards ME/CFS and the use of the nickname “yuppie flu.” In the 1990’s, Dr. Jason and his colleagues conducted a study to determine the prevalence of ME/CFS among adults using a community-based sample and found that despite common misconceptions of the patient population, ME/CFS actually occurs more frequently among minority populations. Other ME/CFS research using community-based samples has yielded similar results. Under-served populations are less likely to have access to or seek out adequate health care, which may explain why they have been under-represented in previous research on physician or clinic-referred samples of patients with ME/CFS. Evidence provided by previous research suggests community-based samples are critical for obtaining unbiased results with higher external validity and may shed light on the needs of underserved populations.

Putting this theory into action, Pediatric Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) in a Community-Based Sample, another NIH-funded study being conducted at the Center for Community Research, aims to determine the prevalence of ME/CFS in youth ages 5-17 from a demographically diverse, unbiased sample of community members. This is the first pediatric ME/CFS study to utilize community-based sampling methods.
        Another unique aspect of this study is that it is multi-dimensional, gathering information on children’s mental and physical health from assessments by psychologists, physicians, the parent/guardian, and the child, as well as from objective data obtained from an actigraph monitor that measures their activity level over a period of 24-hours. A common misconception about ME/CFS is that its origin is psychological. Patient communities often express their distaste towards this assumption, explaining it makes them feel like their illness is being discounted or that people don’t believe their illness is real – that if they really wanted to be more active, they could be if they just went to therapy. By incorporating a psychological assessment into participant assessment, we are able to show that the existence of pediatric ME/CFS is not concurrent with psychological disorders.
        This study is a collaboration with Lurie Children’s Hospital, which allows for a full physical exam to be conducted on the child by a physician. This part of the study includes a blood draw, urine collection, a saliva test, and a heart rate and blood pressure procedure that measures orthostatic intolerance. The blood, urine, and saliva samples are analyzed to determine whether there are any issues with their thyroid, iron level, organ health, blood sugar, and other common health issues that may cause symptoms similar to ME/CFS. This in-depth examination of a child’s physical health further adds to this study’s uniqueness because it rules out any exclusionary health conditions.
        In a research area that has been cluttered with biased sampling methods, stigma towards patients and the illness itself, confusion among doctors and researchers due to the use of multiple case definitions, and a longstanding chasm between patients and doctors on the origin and treatment of ME/CFS, the studies conducted at the Center for Community Research aim to be unbiased, methodologically sound, and to produce valid and reliable results that continuously exemplify theory into action.

    This is one of a series of bulletins highlighting the use of community psychology in practice. Comments, suggestions, and inquiries are welcome. Please direct them to Bill Berkowitz at

Friday, November 7, 2014

Our Experience Transforming THEory into ACTion as early-career community psychologists

by Yolonda Williams, Ph.D. and Rachel L. Jantke, M.A.

Following text by Yolonda Williams, Ph.D.

      When you ask most community psychologist about their research areas or topics of interest, many of them can share in great details about a specific topic(s) that they are most passionate about. Their research interests are usually varied across an assortment of disciplines such as financial literacy, PTSD among veterans, education reforms, health disparities within marginalized communities or disadvantage populations, etc. The point is most community psychologist will always maintain their research interest of choice. However, I believe that I differ in that perspective due to my lack of commitment to one specific research area. Instead, my over-arching goal is to create positive change within various forms of capacity (i.e., communities, workplace environments, nonprofit organizations, school, etc.).
  During my doctoral studies at National Louis University, I learned how to apply collaborative research and action into various theoretical frameworks in an effort to create positive change. Since graduating in 2012 with my PhD in community psychology, I have developed a sincere appreciation of the versatility that community psychology offers students. This field provides a framework that allows me to develop and enhance various skills such as consulting, program evaluation, and community organizing in a broader sense. My skill sets are not only applicable in communities’ settings, but in organizations, government agencies and school settings as well. In addition, community psychology also empowers me to embrace my lack of interest to one specific area and appreciate my desire to create positive change in an array of capacities even more.
  Currently, I work at DePaul University’s Center for Community Research as a Project Director, under the direction of Dr. Leonard A. Jason. My duties include managing a large scale NIH-funded longitudinal prospective study examining chronic fatigue syndrome following infectious mononucleosis in college students. This prospective study is the first of its kind because it follows the trajectory of subjects from a baseline healthy status and is also designed to collect pre-illness data to examine the psychological and biological factors that would cause college students to develop chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) following an onset of mono. The pathophysiological underpinnings of the development of chronic fatigue syndrome are poorly understood. Therefore, identifying risk factors that predispose patients to develop CFS may help uncover the underlying mechanisms.
      Several studies have examined the relationship between infectious mononucleosis (IM) and the development of CFS. However, it is unclear which psychological and biological variables are potential risks factors contributing to the development of CFS following IM because few prospective studies have collected baseline data before the onset of IM.

Following text by Rachel L. Jantke, M.A.

      Upon completion of my B.A. in Psychology, my intention was to advance through graduate school and become a clinical psychologist.  It was while earning my M.A. in Clinical Psychology that I realized the field of community psychology would afford the possibility of influencing macro-level change, and so I shifted my academic focus to Community Psychology doctoral programs.
  During my doctoral studies at National Louis University in Chicago, IL , I was able to apply program evaluation theories by working with two community-based non-profit organizations. The nature of this work allowed me to utilize the community psychology theories as a vehicle to write grant applications, create logic models, develop evaluation tools, and complete a comprehensive consultation for a community organization.  In addition, my dissertation is a program evaluation piece examining the impact of an in-school program on elementary school students, and relies on theories of empowerment and sense of community as contributing factors in the academic success of urban youth.  I am broadly interested in research methodology, study design, and program evaluation, which can instead be applied to a range of topic areas.
  Concurrently, I serve as a Project Director at DePaul University’s Center for Community Research in Chicago, IL, under the direction of Dr. Leonard A. Jason, where I am responsible for managing a 5-year NIH-funded epidemiological study titled Pediatric Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) in a Community-Based Sample.  This study is the first of its kind to examine prevalence rates of CFS among children, and utilizes a variety of approaches to generate a stratified random sample, including community visits to involve participants.
      The first generation of adult chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) prevalence studies recruited samples from treatment settings and concluded that patients with CFS affected primarily Caucasian, middle- to- high-income groups, and this notion led to the inappropriate attribution of CFS being a Yuppie flu illness. Almost all we know about pediatric CFS is based on patients from primary and tertiary care settings, and these youth might not be representative of pediatric CFS in the general population. Biased sampling methods to identify pediatric cases of CFS have impeded efforts to understand the true prevalence of this illness as well as the nature of the condition, similar to what occurred with the first generation of adult CFS epidemiologic studies.
      The present study will determine the prevalence of pediatric CFS by studying a community based, demographically diverse sample of participants, unbiased by illness, help-seeking behaviors, or differential access to the health care system. Major strengths of this project are the diversity of the population, identification of cases from the community, and comparing these samples with community controls. This study is utilizing a community-based sample, and will determine the relative frequency of CFS among various groups (e.g., different age groups, gen-ders, racial/ethnic groups).


Sunday, November 2, 2014

2015 SCRA Biennial: Call for Proposals is Now Open!

Sponsored by the University of Massachusetts Lowell and hosted by its Graduate Program in Community Social Psychology, the 15th Biennial Conference of the Society for Community Research and Action is taking place from June 25 to 28, 2015.

The Call for Proposals is now open and closes on Monday December 15, 2014 at 11:55 p.m. EST.

From the Biennial Webpage:
The 2015 Biennial will be a landmark event, providing an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on 50 years of community psychology and to commemorate the 1965 gathering in nearby Swampscott. Accordingly, we encourage submissions that document and honor the ways in which community psychologists have advanced individual, family, community, and global well-being and thriving, and/or which consider what community psychologists can and should be doing to help address current and future challenges. 

Hope you can join us!!

If you have any questions, please e-mail:

Friday, October 24, 2014

Addressing HIV in India through a Community Life Competence Approach

THEory into ACTion

A Bulletin of New Developments in Community Psychology Practice 
September, 2014

Bobby Zachariah, Coach, The Constellation for Community Life Competence  
Nabesh Bohidar, Care India
Rituu B. Nanda, The Constellation

     HIV is a significant issue impacting India, especially among its migrant populations. In this short article, we describe a strength-based facilitative intervention designed to reduce HIV vulnerabilities among those groups.  This action, applying a participatory Community Life Competence approach, was developed and carried out by researchers from India Competence, a branch of the international organization The Constellation for Community Life Competence, together with a supporting NGO and the migrant communities themselves as co-researchers. 

     Our project aimed to strengthen the community-led HIV response in three cross-border migrant communities in Mumbai, India with the following objectives:
  • Increase community participation in the program 
  • Facilitate formation of the community’s dreams for a healthy future and action plans to achieve them 
  • Understand the capacities and mechanisms in place that indicate sustainability of response after project closure.
     Through previous work, the project had established cross-border programming, and had increased awareness of HIV and treatment among Nepali and Bangladeshi migrants in India. The initial actions undertaken here by the India Competence Team were to identify inherent strengths in the project, the local NGO team, and the community.  The India Competence Team used SALT (Stimulate, Share, Support / Appreciate / Learn, Listen / Transfer)  as a framework to develop mutual caring in protecting populations from HIV.

The Process

  Over a period of 11 months, the India Competence Team had 3 distinct interactions with the NGO team to introduce the concepts, help form a dream, mentor the approach, and facilitate measurement of change. In the following paragraphs, we highlight some aspects of the process.

     Community life competence. After the training, the program staff used SALT by asking appreciative questions to the migrant community such as “What are you proud of?” The community felt valued and appreciated, and was inspired to reflect on its strengths, thus increasing its self-belief.“Our strength as a Nepali community is in our unity. We come together and care for each other.” 

     Dream-building exercise. A dream-building exercise was then conducted with members of the Bangla-speaking community and Nepali migrants.  This helped the communities to dream about 2014, when the project would no longer exist.  Community dreams included projecting a future where HIV prevalence was much less, where those who were sick were cared for without stigma, and where the community members themselves took initiatives on HIV prevention. The community then reflected on its present situation in terms of its dreams.“As women, we have acknowledged the risk of HIV; however, our adolescents and men have not.”  

     From teaching to facilitation. The local NGO team changed its approach from teaching to facilitating community actions against HIV.  This indicated a belief in community strengths rather than relying only on staff capacities and provision of services.  Community action plans to achieve their dreams guided the facilitation process.“We will help the community to reflect on its current status and encourage them to work towards its dreams.  If it needs training, we would provide it.  If there are challenges, we will work to overcome them.”

The Changes

     The participatory action research conducted at the end of the process revealed the following changes:

     Empowerment of women. Women feel empowered: “When I go outside, if someone teases me, I respond. My confidence has grown.” 

  Women understand risks better: “We used to cover ourselves using headscarves, were fearful to speak up, and suffered in silence when things went wrong (e.g., when husbands used to drink and abuse). Now we speak up and engage in outside issues.” 

  Women are openly talking to husbands about HIV. They are no longer shy, but rather encourage others to go for HIV testing. Women have also begun to negotiate condom use with their husbands:  “I have told my husband that he has to use a condom when he visits sex workers. I never dreamed that I could tell him that. He has begun to listen to me.” 

     Women discussed how they are protecting others from contracting HIV: “Earlier when homeowners used to harass the domestic workers for sex, women used to get angry and walk out.  Instead, we are now educating our employers that HIV can be transmitted via unprotected sexual contact.”

     Care of people living with HIV (PLHIV). The community attitude towards PLHIV has changed from stigma to compassion. Community members now take the patients to hospitals and care for them: “We have to take care, so that he or she does not feel discrimination related to HIV. Henceforth, we will not discriminate on the basis of HIV.”

     Access and adherence to treatment (for HIV, TB, pregnancy, and STDs).  Now several men in the community are providing information to other men regarding where treatment is available for HIV and TB: “Very few men are engaged, and if no NGO will come we will have to do something ourselves.”

  Identifying, recognizing, and addressing vulnerabilities (alcohol abuse, sex work, sexual harassment at the workplace, and domestic violence):“We are concerned about HIV risk, for the sake of our children.  Therefore we have done HIV testing.” (Three out of four men have had HIV tests.) 

     What Will Happen After the Project Ends?
     Communities have expressed a strong desire to keep the HIV program alive even after the project comes to an end: “It’s our duty after the project to take action on HIV in the community. Two out of three men in the community are volunteers providing information on HIV; we hold monthly meetings on HIV; alcohol consumption has decreased.  After the project, we would continue to work on this.  We will set up a committee that can check on issues such as alcohol abuse, domestic violence, etc.”

     Transfer of vision, actions, and strategies. Communities said that they have begun to share their experiences at their workplaces, and with friends, relatives, and other communities, because they are excited about their response to HIV: “Now we can speak openly, and we are no longer shy; we have realized that HIV is a disease. If we keep quiet now, we leave others around us at risk.”

Communities drew maps to indicate where they had transferred their experiences and visions around HIV:  


     Research on public health programs, particularly HIV, has shown that providing services and information alone will not work. Behavior change can come about if communities recognize that an issue is of concern to them. Our project demonstrated a way to do this.  

     Traditional “deficit” approaches focus on the problems and weaknesses in a community. They design services to fill gaps and fix problems. As a result, the community can feel disempowered and dependent; people can become passive recipients of services rather than co-participants. Therefore, community life competence, a strength-based approach, particularly for engagement of migrants who often helpless and ignored, can help community members realize their strengths. As one of the project coordinators reflected: “It is all about power, letting go, the belief in the potential of the community. It is the NGO that has to change.”

     The local NGO team was quick to acknowledge the capacity of the communities to own a vision and respond to their challenges.  This helped the staff initiate appropriate actions to facilitate a community response.  The communities responded by vision formation and action planning for a future beyond this project.

     All the elements of the Community Life Competence Project as planned could not be implemented in one year.   In summary, however, the visible changes we have seen point toward the effectiveness of this approach, one which mobilizes community ownership and adapts to local conditions. 

Community Life Competence is an approach based on the belief of the capacity of the community to respond to its concerns, measure changes, and transfer strengths to others. More information can be found at, where it is also possible to join their online community. Care India invited the Constellation team based in India to engage with the migrant community for the EMPHASIS Project (Enhancing Mobile Populations’ Access to HIV & AIDS Information and Services).

This is one of a series of bulletins highlighting the use of community psychology in practice. Comments, suggestions, and inquiries are welcome. Please direct them to Bill Berkowitz at

Friday, October 17, 2014

SCRA Webinar #3: Building Your Online Community for Social Change

Would you like to learn more about using social media to raise your profile and connect with your community?  Do you wonder if you're talking to the right people? Or how you can best present yourself in social media channels?

Through the dedicated efforts from your fellow SCRA members, and funding allocated from the SCRA Executive Committee the Webinar series continue! Get ready for our 3rd Webinar: Building Your Online Community for Social Change to be held next Friday, October 24th, at 3 p.m. EST. Go to Eventbrite now to register!

Community psychologists partner with communities and organize for social change. Increasingly many of our community building efforts incorporate social media to accomplish collaborative aims.  In the third SCRA online learning opportunity, SCRA social media consultants, Susan Tenby and Willie Kuo, will focus on examples and case studies of effective social media use for community-building by nonprofits and communities.

This session will provide opportunities for you to consult with experts about any challenges you have encountered when trying to identify and interact with others via social media.  The presenters will describe using social network analysis tools to find leaders and identify communities online.  Practical skills of using consistent language and effective hashtags to encourage action in line with your message will also be discussed.  And, finally, you will learn more about how to present yourself and what to post when working to promote community events or policy change actions.

Do you have a question or example from your work that you would like Susan and Willie to discuss? Tweet your question to @SCRA and use #SCRASocial.

Learning Objectives:
  1. You will learn how to target the right people and discover communities through follower network.
  2. You will learn how to manage your personal and professional "brand." 
  3. You will learn how to extend the audience of an event via social media backchannel strategies.

Register via Eventbrite by Thursday, October 23, 2014 at 5PM Eastern. You will receive an invitation via email from GlobalMeet to log-in at 3PM Eastern on Friday, October 24 at 3PMEastern at Log-in as a guest.

Be sure to tweet about this event mentioning @scra and using Hashtag #SCRAsocial

Introducing Our Presenters: Susan Tenby

Susan Tenby

Susan Tenby(@suzboophas worked in online community management for 14 years and has been active in social media since 2006.
As the original Online Community Manager TechSoup, Susan was responsible for launching the organization’s active community and social media presence. In her current position as Director of Community and Partnerships for Caravan Studios, she uses her community management skills and social media listening expertise to analyze social networks, build community and generate leads. Susan also assists many small to medium sized organizations with social media and online community-building strategy and implementation, as a private consultant. She is the founder of the largest Online Community Meetup in the Bay Area. Susan is also a frequent public speaker on social media best practices and online community strategy. In her spare time, she runs the social media channels for the iconic all-women rock band, The Go-Go's.

Introducing Our Presenters: Willie Kuo

Willie Kuo

Willie Kuo is the Assistant Director at the Los Angeles Art Association, where she works in development, marketing and communications. Prior to her current role, she served at EMERGENCY USA as part of an Americorps fellowship through New Sector's Residency in Social Enterprise (RISE), a program that develops future leaders in the social sector. Her capacity building projects at EMERGENCY USA improved the use of technology for outreach, which included database implementation and community building through social media. She has pursued her passion for creating social impact through internships at several social sector organizations, including the Clinton Global Initiative in NY, ThinkImpact in South Africa and AIDS Research Alliance in LA. Because of her interest in how social enterprises can use online community building to further their mission, organization and drive social change, Willie assists with online community and social media as a volunteer at Caravan Studios, a division of TechSoup.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

SCRA Webinar #2: Social Change through Social Policy

Are you interested in learning more about how community psychologists work to create social change by influencing policy?

Through the dedicated efforts from your fellow SCRA members, and funding allocated from the SCRA Executive Committee, the new SCRA webinar series present  SCRA Webinar #2: Social Change through Social Policy on Friday, September 19, 2014 from 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM (EDT)

In our second online learning session, Lenny Jason, PhD and Ken Maton, PhD will illustrate how to bring about social change through social policy, drawing on their respective areas of expertise. The presentation will provide an in depth look into principles of social change, an overview of the social policy process, and a description of methods and skills community psychologists employ to influence policy. A number of successful social policy interventions undertaken by community psychologists will be highlighted.

Webinar Learning Objectives

1. Principles of Social Change

2. Social Policy Actors, Phases and Contextual Factors

3. Social Policy Influence Methods and Skills

Introducing Our Presenters: Leonard Jason

Leonard A. Jason (@CenterRes)  received his PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Rochester in 1975. He is currently a Professor of Psychology at DePaul University and the Director of the Center for Community Research. This fall will be Jason’s 40th year as a faculty member at DePaul University. He is a past Director of Clinical Training for the Clinical Psychology Doctoral program, past faculty sponsor of Psi Chi, and was one of the faculty members responsible for the creation of the human services concentration and community concentration within the psychology undergraduate program. He also was one of the faculty members that helped create the doctoral program in Community Psychology. Jason has served on 83 Thesis Committees (of which he chaired 57), and 70 Dissertation Committees (of which he chaired 36).

Jason is a former president of the Division of Community Psychology of the American Psychological Association (APA) and a past editor ofThe Community Psychologist. Jason has served as the Vice President of the International American Association of CFS/ME. He also served as the Chairperson of the Research Subcommittee of the U.S. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Jason has edited or written 23 books, and he has published over 600 articles and 75 book chapters on chronic fatigue syndrome; Oxford House recovery homes; the prevention of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug abuse; media interventions; and program evaluation. He has served on the editorial boards of ten psychological journals. Jason has served on review committees of the National Institutes of Health, and he has received over $34,000,000 in federal research grants. He has received three media awards from the APA, and is frequently asked to comment on policy issues for numerous media outlets.

Introducing Our Presenters: Kenneth Maton

Ken Maton is Professor of Psychology and Affiliate Professor, Department of Public Policy, at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). This past year he co-chaired (with Doug Perkins) the SCRA Policy Committee. Ken is currently writing a book, Influencing Social Policy, based on interviews with 80 psychologists actively involved in the policy arena. He recently prepared (with Keith Humphreys, Leonard Jason, and Beth Shinn), “Community psychology in the policy arena”, the policy chapter for the forthcoming Handbook of Community Psychology. In 2004 he co-edited (with Bonnie Leadbeater, Cynthia Schellenbach and Andrea Solarz), Investing in children, youth, families and communities: Strengths-based research and policy. Primary areas of research include minority student achievement, empowering community settings, and the community psychology of religion.

Be sure to tweet about this event mentioning @scra and using Hashtag #SCRAsocial

Friday, August 22, 2014

Girl Power! Lessons Learned from Active Engagement with a Primary Prevention Program Focused on Girls

THEory into ACTion

A Bulletin of New Developments in Community Psychology Practice 
August 2014

Suzette Fromm Reed and Wytress Richardson
National Louis University

     Community psychology has a wealth of theories, guiding principles, and tenets that apply to mentoring young girls. Translating those theories into action comes with some anticipated hurdles as well as some unforeseen obstacles.  In this article, lessons learned from our work as evaluation consultants with a “Girl Power!” program will be explored.
     Our work involved collaborating with a community health coalition comprised, in part, of the local school boards, the park district, and a hospital. We provided evaluation consultations for two consecutive summers for a program consisting of 121 mostly Black and Latino girls between ages 8-10 who participated in a summer camp program.  The socioeconomic status of the community was lower middle class to low-income. The program consisted of activities five days a week from 9am-12 noon; the sessions encompassed daily subject matter, for example: leadership, trust, and self-worth as fundamental themes.
     The central focus of the project was to educate girls on healthy nutritional choices and increase daily movement; but the communal significance of the camp went far beyond nutrition and uncovered the need for an all-inclusive investment in girls. There can be a push to get girls moving and eating healthy food, but they also have to understand how that will impact them in other life areas such as how eating fruits and veggies can help their skin stay clear, their hair grow and shine, and even impact their moods. The obesity epidemic does not solely rest upon people becoming overweight, but also on the fact that some lack healthy self-esteem, self-worth, or even general support from others to make beneficial choices in any area of their lives. For that reason, despite our role as evaluators we saw a need to be an active part of the programming, specifically to encourage consideration of a strengths-based focus on the whole child, including their individual strengths and power-base.  Multiple levels of influence were also considered, specifically how their personal decisions, choices, and abilities intersected with family, community, and society.
     Based on our active engagement with program staff and the girls, we learned some core lessons revolving around the needs to create a safe and empowering environment and the power of collective affirmation on self-efficacy (and perhaps collective efficacy as well).

Creating a Safe and Empowering Environment

     Creating a safe and empowering environment is a principal factor in establishing trust. When the girls came to the camp, most of them had never had any interaction with one another. With the exception of a handful of girls coming in pairs, the majority came alone. Our intention was to create a safe and supportive environment where the girls would feel comfortable enough to participate in the planned activities.  While we were deliberate in creating exercises that would build teamwork, we also emphasized each girl’s uniqueness and intentionally created exercises around individuality. One of the individual activities we had the girls do was share their feelings about participating in the camp -- sharing if they wanted to be there or not, and letting them know that it was not a problem if they did not want to be there. This created individualism and empowered the girls to be honest without consequence. We then paired them and had them share something about themselves with their partner. They then had to share with the entire group what they learned of their partner. A sense of appreciation appeared to form in the eyes of the girls when they recognized that they had similarities with their partner. This icebreaker led to building community amongst the members.
     Setting the tone for a healthy and safe atmosphere provided a framework to empower the girls and give them voice. Creating a safe zone of trust included the ability to create a climate that was inclusive, engaging, and structured. It was incredible to see the girls open up and begin to communicate their inner feelings. It appeared that the environment was supportive and non-judgmental, thus creating an aura of security, camaraderie, and trust.

The Power of Collective Affirmation on Self- and Collective Efficacy

     One way to create positive groupthink, which helped to build collective efficacy, was having girls recite a pledge on the strength of being a girl. The girls were able to identify a sense of self-worth through the power of the pledge and saying it out loud on a daily basis. The pledge engendered a sense of self-worth by giving power to the participant’s voice as they spoke the words out loud daily. The pledge was thought-provoking, inspiring, and filled with empowering affirmations that touched their inner being and gave a sense of permission to be empowered. While reciting the pledge, the girls expressed their authority and screamed the affirming words of being a girl: this seemed to strengthen them as individuals and even as a group. They hugged, smiled, and laughed while reciting the pledge. Each day’s recitation was louder, stronger, and more robust. Their sense of self-efficacy was energized from within, thus causing a chain reaction and a collective affirming group of 8-10 year-old girls from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
Although we believe the pledge was a critical component, it appears the intentional creation of community/togetherness was necessary. Our approach, which appears to be effective, was to pair the girls into groups of two, then into small groups, and finally back into the collective cluster where even the more introverted girls were able to bond and create a community of togetherness. They appeared to have gained power from being together and getting to know one another. There seemed to be an awareness, appreciation, and consciousness from each other during some of the activities (i.e. the shoe game and the getting-to know you game). This collective thought process was a contributing factor in reinforcing groupthink in a positive way. The power of community brings about solidarity and may play a critical role in fostering the improvement of a healthy lifestyle for the girls. We acknowledge the role of health and diet in relation to obesity, but we suggest that the power of the group is a critical component to any long-lasting change at both the individual and community level.
As individuals, in the beginning of the program, the girls were frightened and timid. As a group, they became strong and powerful. They memorized the Girl Pledge and were screaming “Girl Power!” within one day. They were 8-10 year-old girls realizing that they had internal and external strength that was powerful beyond measure. They only needed the structure and guidance of a safe, healthy, and positive atmosphere to learn, grow and change – and this gave them the individual and collective voice, control, tools, and opportunity to feel Girl Power! 
The lessons learned from Girl Power! can be applied to many forms of mentoring programs including, but not limited to, healthy lifestyles and obesity prevention programs. One such example includes work at the Girls of Grace Youth Organization founded by Wytress Richardson (co-author) in 2007, designed to encourage holistic development of girls between the ages of 8-18. Over the past seven years Girls of Grace has helped over 100 girls throughout the Chicagoland area find value in themselves, build their confidence and provide leadership development through mentoring.
     The lessons learned from Girl Power can be extended directly to Girls of Grace and other after-school and week-end programs that provide structured community and age-appropriate activities.

This is one of a series of bulletins highlighting the use of community psychology in practice. Comments, suggestions, and questions are welcome. Please direct them to Bill Berkowitz at

Monday, August 4, 2014

SCRA Webinar #1: Building Community via Social Media

Are you interested in learning how to build responsive, meaningful relationships among all members of your community via social media?

     Through the dedicated efforts from your fellow SCRA members, and funding allocated from the SCRA Executive Committee, this new SCRA webinar series will occur monthly in August, September, October and November. Our first webinar will be hosted by our social media consultants Susan Tenby and Willie Kuo on August 15th, from 3 to 4 p.m. EDT.
     Our first session will cover the basics of social media engagement. Susan Tenby will cover how to create a community of followers from the ground-up, including how to identify evangelists, and how to publish and engage on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin in just a few minutes each day or week.
     Susan and Willie will bring their extensive expertise to teach tools that will be useful for a variety of levels experience with social media. The presentation will provide an in depth look into publishing and listening on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin. The techniques introduced to SCRA members are a high-engagement approach to community-building across social media channels that will be excellent training for community psychologists.

Webinar Learning Objectives
1. The basics of Tweeting, Retweeting and Following
2. Engagement on Facebook and Linkedin
3. Effectively use one of these three channels in 15 minutes or less

RSVP by Wednesday, August 14, 2014 to receive access information for the webinar.
Mark your calendar for August 15, 2014 and forward to a friend
Be sure to tweet about this event mentioning @scra and using Hashtag #SCRAsocial

Introducing Our Presenters: Susan Tenby
Susan Tenby(@suzboophas worked in online community management for 14 years and has been active in social media since 2006.
As the original Online Community Manager TechSoup, Susan was responsible for launching the organization’s active community and social media presence. In her current position as Director of Community and Partnerships for Caravan Studios, she uses her community management skills and social media listening expertise to analyze social networks, build community and generate leads. Susan also assists many small to medium sized organizations with social media and online community-building strategy and implementation, as a private consultant. She is the founder of the largest Online Community Meetup in the Bay Area. Susan is also a frequent public speaker on social media best practices and online community strategy. In her spare time, she runs the social media channels for the iconic all-women rock band, The Go-Go's.

Introducing Our Presenters: Willie Kuo
Willie Kuo is the Assistant Director at the Los Angeles Art Association, where she works in development, marketing and communications. Prior to her current role, she served at EMERGENCY USA as part of an Americorps fellowship through New Sector's Residency in Social Enterprise (RISE), a program that develops future leaders in the social sector. Her capacity building projects at EMERGENCY USA improved the use of technology for outreach, which included database implementation and community building through social media. She has pursued her passion for creating social impact through internships at several social sector organizations, including the Clinton Global Initiative in NY, ThinkImpact in South Africa and AIDS Research Alliance in LA. Because of her interest in how social enterprises can use online community building to further their mission, organization and drive social change, Willie assists with online community and social media as a volunteer at Caravan Studios, a division of TechSoup

The webinar will be hosted on the Global Meet Platform. To receive details about it, please register at this link

Friday, July 18, 2014

Basing a Leadership Academy’s Curriculum on Ecological Systems

THEory into ACTion

A Bulletin of New Developments in Community Psychology Practice 
July, 2014 

Basing a Leadership Academy’s Curriculum on Ecological Systems

Hana Shahin 

     Four years ago, the Lazord Academy for Civic Leadership was created as part of the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at the American University in Cairo. The main purpose of the Academy was to provide potential civic leaders in all fields with the necessary skills and tools for leading change across many sectors. Some of the civic leaders who participate in our programs work or are interested in the economic development field, human rights, women’s issues, street children, and other social affairs. 

     The Academy has evolved throughout the years as new tracks are added, such as the Civic Professionals program for Lazord Fellows and employees from partner nonprofit organizations, and also as existing tracks get solidified, such as the track of Advocates for Civic Engagement for undergraduate students. All these programs are united with the vision of graduating a generation of civically responsible and skilled leaders that play an active and engaged role across various sectors.

     Lazord’s mission is to empower select AUC students and young civil society leaders by offering them guided opportunities to expand their skills in ethical leadership, civic engagement, and strategic philanthropy. The Academy aims to provide its civic leaders with exposure to the inner workings of civil society through practical experience, workshops, and mentorship. Accordingly, the participants’ academic excellence and personal growth are facilitated in a structured environment that helps them build the bridge between theory and practice. 

     The Academy has been engaged in continuous development this year, with an emphasis on its methodology. When planning for the 2013-2014 academic year, the team  gathered to unify the methodology across all tracks. This process was composed of three main stages: the development of a curriculum map, creation of a methodology based on ecological systems theory, and development of the phases and topics for each ecological system.

     During the first stage, program coordinators developed a curriculum map based on the values and learning outcomes of the Academy. The values of the Academy are proactive citizenship, respect for diversity, participatory practices, reciprocity of learning and service, integrity in learning, knowledge sharing, critical reflection, self-awareness, innovation, and creative problem solving. The desired learning outcomes are for participants to gain exposure to the inner workings of civil society through extensive exposure, practical experience, and mentorship; develop civic leadership skills; empower the community by acting as a catalyst for strategic philanthropy and capacity building; gain professional competencies through numerous opportunities at the professional and self-development levels; and build a professional network and portfolio.

     The step of creating a curriculum map led to the creation of competencies,  inspired by and derived from the community psychology practice competencies (2012), as well as the Gerhart Center’s own standards, and local Arab expertise engaged in the last years of the program. The curriculum map inspired the topics for the curriculum and helped visualize the different phases that students would move through. The phases included Exploration, Discovery/Rationalize, Plan, and Act, all of these derivable from the community psychology practice competencies.

     In stage two, ecological systems surrounding the participants were developed. These systems were inspired by Bronfenbrenner (1977) and Prilleltensky, Nelson and Peirson (2001), who suggest that a person is a part of a community and society – to understand or change the person or the community, one needs to look at all the ecological systems and levels that the community is constructed of: individual, micro, meso, exo, and macro-system levels. 

     Accordingly, for each track, an adaptation of the systems theory was formulated for each training program. For example, the systems for one track were Me, My Cause, and My Community. For the other track, the systems were Me, My Community, Egypt, and the World. Hence the curriculum is constructed of ecological systems surrounding the individual; the core being the discovery of personal potentials surrounded by a micro system, which is nested within community-related systems and workforce practices. Each system division includes sessions that directly affect these ecological systems. For example, the Lazord Civic Professional, a track for young leaders working in non-profit organizations, is composed of Me, My Work, the Cause, and Community/Egypt.

     Following the creation of ecological models for both training programs, stage three involved arranging topics in each ecological system in a way to match the four phases – namely, the progression of Explore, Discover/Rationalize, Plan, and Act, in each of the systems.  Each topic aligned itself to a previous training needs assessment and previous training topics that received high satisfaction rates; topics were also selected based on their alignment with the competencies that the participants should gain. The core of the training program is the skill of critical thinking; accordingly, critical thinking was addressed in all systems.

     After the plan and curriculum were put together, the different tracks were implemented throughout the year. Some difficulties in implementation included the current instability in political structure of Egypt, and the commitment of the trainers and speakers. In addition, it was sometimes difficult for the coordinators of the programs to maintain the new structure, and sometimes challenging for participants to understand the program’s progression.

     Evaluation came after implementation. Formative and summative evaluations of the Academy were conducted in three ways: session evaluations, collective evaluations, and pre/post competencies self-evaluations. Session evaluations were gathered after each session, while collective evaluations were conducted both midway through and at the end of the program.  These evaluations mainly evaluated the trainer, the logistics, and the program as a whole. 

     The pre/post competencies self-evaluations were conducted before and after the program by the participants. These evaluations may have been the most important, because they gave us an idea of the gaps and further needs of the programs, while emphasizing the development of the participants. Although the evaluations provided us with data about the progress of the program and the development of the participants, they have clearly highlighted room for improving the methodology, the curriculum, and most of all the evaluation process for the coming year. Through self-evaluation, the participants indicated progress on some of their competencies while some other competencies stayed the same or deteriorated. Such results indicate a deficiency in our evaluation system. Accordingly, for the next cohort we are compiling all the evaluations to develop the program further, in addition to planning new evaluation methods that will better assess the program’s structure and content. 

     In planning the Academy’s future for the upcoming year, one of the major lessons learned throughout the process is that we need to continue building on the program that we have rather than simply changing our methodology. We concluded that by sticking to our methodology and only using the evaluations of the participants and stakeholders’ views to improve it, we will be able to strengthen our methodology and impact in the long run.

This is one of a series of bulletins highlighting the use of community psychology in practice. Comments, suggestions, and questions are welcome. Please direct them to Bill Berkowitz at

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977). Toward an experimental ecology of human development. American     
Psychologist, 32(7), 513-531.

Competencies for Community Psychology Practice.  (2012). Draft paper.  Society for Community   Research And Action, Council on Education Programs and Community Psychology Practice Council, Task Group on Defining Practice Competencies.

Prilleltensky, I., Nelson, G., & Peirson, L. (2001).  Promoting family wellness and preventing child maltreatment: Fundamentals for thinking and action. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.