New PVAMU initiative to improve health of underserved communities

The Houston metroplex raises the bar on so many levels, including its rich melting pot of cultures, traditions, and lifestyles. Unfortunately, some of its residents’ lifestyles are more harmful than good.

To help tackle these issues, Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) launched its new Healthy Houston Initiative (HHI). Professors, researchers, practitioners, and students from PVAMU’s Colleges of Agriculture and Human Sciences (CAHS), Nursing, Juvenile Justice and Psychology, and Business will utilize a $750,000 grant awarded by The Texas A&M University System to bring training and programming to targeted communities.

“The Healthy Houston Initiative brings together four of our colleges, demonstrating the best in program delivery of our land-grant mission,” said James M. Palmer, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs.

Carolyn Williams, Ph.D., executive director of PVAMU’s Cooperative Extension Program (CEP), said, “The mission of Prairie View A&M University’s Healthy Houston Initiative is to assist in improving the health, nutrition, and wellness of selected underserved communities in Houston.” Williams is leading programmatic efforts for HHI.

Statistical data reveals there are pockets of poverty (POPs) within the Houston Metropolitan Statistical Area (GHA), which includes Harris and its surrounding counties. POPs are infamous for high rates among its residents of chronic health issues, illegal drug use, juvenile crime, and low primary, secondary, and college attendance and completion rates. Despite prevailing wisdom, most of these problems are fixable.

Gerard D’Souza, Ph.D., dean of the College of Agriculture & Human Sciences, which houses CEP, says HHI will take a holistic approach in assisting individuals and communities in improving their quality of life.

“The college’s Cooperative Extension Program, which serves 35 counties in the state, has responded to the family, agriculture, youth, and economic needs of underserved Texans for over a century,” he said. “The Healthy Houston Initiative is about taking the university to the people, which is consistent with our land-grant mission. Agricultural colleges—such as ours—can play a role in research, discovery, and dissemination. It is in this spirit that we are delighted to be of service to the communities of Houston that many of us call home.”

The colleges will work through HHI to accomplish four primary goals in the GHA:

  • Expanding the awareness of nutritional and health services available to families;
  • Improving healthy self-care practices through screenings, assessments, and referrals;
  • Providing workshops and educational opportunities focused on parenting and family support; and
  • Improving access to healthy foods.

“Year one will focus on the areas of Third Ward, Acres Homes, Sunnyside, Alief-Westwood, Kashmere Gardens, Magnolia Park-Manchester, and Second Ward in the Houston area,” said Williams. “We will seek input from the Mayor of Houston to prioritize the identified communities. Our program is designed to reach school-age youth and adults across the lifespan.”

Virtual and face-to-face programs include mental health first aid training for families; food demonstrations, promoting the use of fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers markets and food banks; telehealth screenings to help identify intervention strategies for self-care related to diabetes, blood pressure, and other common health conditions; and youth development activities regarding STEM and pre-college virtual conferences.

HHI will also incorporate modules from its already successful programs in financial planning and literacy, and efforts such as the PVAMU-Haverstock Venture, which currently provides support services to residents in the Haverstock Hills Apartments to help strengthen them and address social-related problems.

“After residents in these communities complete these programs, they will be able to pass down their knowledge to future generations. It will eventually lead to a shift for the better in Houston’s culture,” said Williams.

The impact of HHI is expected to be immeasurable. It’s certainly expected to counteract effects from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has magnified the wealth and wellness gap among residents.

“The funding for this initiative is for one year, but we are hopeful that we will receive additional funding to continue,” said Williams. “The HHI initiative is critical to the City of Houston. In working with other agencies, PVAMU is determined to promote a holistic wellness approach to healthy lifestyles in meeting the needs of families and communities.”

PVAMU kicked off HHI with a news conference on October 12 with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, PVAMU President Ruth J. Simmons, and CAHS Dean Gerard D’Souza. View the news conference in its entirety on the HTV Houston Television Facebook page.

To find out more information about HHI and its programs, visit www.pvamu.edu/cahs/healthy-houston.