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Community holds answer to health disparity

By John Geluardi Daily Planet Staff
Thursday March 01, 2001

Health officials gave the City Council a progress report Tuesday on the community outreach and education program designed to close the city’s health disparity gap through empowering the communities most effected. 

In June the City Council approved $200,000 to develop the Community Capacity Building Program in south and west Berkeley. Program directors have since been able to increase the fund by $358,000 through matching funds from federal and state grants as well as donations from private sources. 

The Community Capacity Building Program came out of the 1999 City of Berkeley Health Status Report, which exposed major health disparities between Caucasian residents and residents of color. The report showed the rates of serious health problems such as AIDS/HIV, tuberculosis, and low birth weight were more likely to impact blacks than whites. 

Director of Health and Human Services Fred Medrano said the program is a new concept that is designed to use the strengths of the communities most impacted by poor health. 

“The community response is very important to the solution,” Medrano said. “We need to develop a sense of empowerment and awareness of existing health services so they can take action.”  

Councilmember Linda Maio said the goal of the program is to create proactive communities by developing the skills within the community to recognize problems and then taking the appropriate action to solve them. 

“There’s nothing like figuring out there’s a problem, figuring out a solution and then solving it,” she said. “It’s very empowering and how most activists are born.” 

Maio said the blueprint for success will create a proactive infrastructure in the community that will naturally address health issues. 

CCB director Sheryl Walton said west and south Berkeley’s single parents, unskilled and low-income residents will be trained how to asses community needs, develop solutions and plans of action to carry them out.  

Residents who volunteer will be organized into Community Action Teams. They will receive a stipend to attend meetings and will take a 16-hour course instructing them in skills such as data collection and community organization. 

“Then they will go door to door to determine the needs and the strengths of their neighborhoods,” Walton said. “Next they will organize community forums which will include everybody in the community and the various city service providers.” 

At the forums the volunteers will present the information they have gathered and develop solutions for the most serious problems.  

Walton said solutions could range from putting in a traffic light at a certain intersection to providing more youth programs, to reducing the number of liquor stores in a particular neighborhood and replacing them with grocery stores. 

Walton said it will take time for the community to form a sustainable organization and that the city will have to be willing to support the Community Action Teams. “It will take time and trust,” she said. “Politicians will have to trust the community to solve these problems and the community will have to trust the politicians will stand behind them.” 

Regular Community Action Team meetings in south Berkeley are held at 7 p.m. at the Over 60s Clinic at Sacramento Street and Alcatraz Avenue on the first Wednesday of the month. 

They are held in west Berkeley on the first Thursday of the month at the Liberty Hill Missionary Church at Ninth Street and University Avenue at 7 p.m.  

For more information call the Department of Health and Human Services at 665-6809