House of Teens & CCSU Collaborate on Cultivating Healthy Communities Project

YWCA New Britain and Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) regularly collaborate on youth programs, East Side community events, internships, and more. Thanks to funding from the Aetna Foundation’s Cultivating Healthy Communities grant, the two organizations took on a larger project to tackle the social determinants of health on New Britain’s East Side.

In the fall of 2019, CCSU students in Dr. Reinalo Rojas’ community practice class helped the YWCA House of Teens with their PhotoVoice project. PhotoVoice is an empowering and flexible photojournalism process that teaches students how to advocate for themselves and educate their peers with research and data on topics of interest.

Together the groups decided on the topic “why zip codes matter,” looking to examine local health and economic disparities. They compared statistics in their zip code (06051) with those nearby as well as census tracts in New Britain and Newington.

In early March, Dr. Rojas’ class visited the Teen Center where the teens presented a preview of their project. Adrianna, Ana Sofia, and Yeyris of the House of Teens later presented the group’s final project virtually to the CCSU class.

The teens’ project found that there are more financial and health disparities on New Britain's East Side than in other neighborhoods nearby. Compared to 06052, the next zip code over, unemployment, smoking, and obesity are each 9%-11% more prevalent on the East Side and median income is nearly $23,000 less.

In response to the PhotoVoice research findings, CCSU students and the House of Teens have been working to implement policy and environmental improvement projects on the East Side. They quickly found new ways to engage residents after the suspension of social gatherings and community events due to COVID-19.

The groups conducted a COVID-19 Story Series, aiming to build hope, compassion, and social cohesion in a time of social distancing and trauma. Members of the New Britain Eastside NRZ Facebook group participated by sharing how their lives have been affected by the pandemic, how they are coping with the changes, and what resources they could utilize.

In addition to PhotoVoice work, Dr. Rojas’ students also helped create a rock garden on the East Side to engage the community and share inspiration. Residents can take a rock from the garden for themselves or to share, or bring some of their own motivational rocks to help the garden grow. The CCSA Art Department also partnered with community members to design a mural that would foster an environment of support and togetherness on the East Side. It is set to be finished in the fall.

The Cultivating Healthy Communities project is almost complete, but YWCA’s work on the East Side will continue. The agency’s next proposed project is called “Revitalization through Resilience: Trauma- Informed Community Development for the East Side.” Through this effort, the East Side Community Center will implement a Trauma-Informed Community Development model to accelerate youth and community revitalization initiatives.

With the proposed plan, a micro-community of 30 to 50 families will receive mental and physical health screenings, education, and referrals from a behavioral health community organizer and youth community health workers. The project will address both individual and collective needs for improved mental health in the wake of COVID-19.