Shreveport Community Health Hubs help citizens improve lifestyle

Karol Osborne

Community Health Hubs are helping to redefine how Shreveport residents make decisions about health and lifestyle.

The Community Health Hub concept is a bottom-up approach bringing together neighborhood engagement with regional health-based resources, according to Grace Peterson, LSU AgCenter associate extension agent for SNAP-Ed and horticulture.

“Basics strategies, like access to food and education, can look very different depending on what a community wants and needs,” she said. “We are using a site team to hear what people want and need for their community, bringing in the resources to address those needs, and supporting community voice as the guiding principle.”

The We Grow Together! campus in the Stoner Hill neighborhood near Caddo Magnet School is a model “hub” where residents and volunteers regularly come together for garden-based nutrition education and other health-related services.

Weekly programs include classes on gardening, garden workdays, neighborhood cleanup campaigns, food preparation and tasting events, and guest speakers.

A recent garden event called “A Taste of Summer” brought together youth, young adults and grandparents to learn how to prepare a garden-fresh salad with homemade vinaigrette dressing.

Patricia Carson no longer lives in the neighborhood but was born and raised there. “I come as often as I can, and when there are activities for kids, I try to make sure my grandchildren are involved,” she said.

Carson’s grandson Aiden Hillard, a fifth-grader at Eden Gardens Magnet School, said he usually doesn’t like vegetables but likes learning about them and trying new things.

Weekly meetings draw more than a dozen youth and adults, and programs are planned year-round to attract a wide range of people, said Mary Dumars, a Red River Coalition of Community Gardeners member, who volunteers at several community garden sites around the city.

Dumars said they promote events by word-of-mouth, through churches and neighborhood associations, and email.

“All of the community garden coordinators around town come to monthly coalition meetings held at the site — people who garden at home, college students, grandparents and grandchildren — it trickles through the neighborhood,” she said.

George Cox, a Southern University student studying biology, became interested when he heard that something with an educational purpose was happening in the neighborhood.

The Stoner Hill group started over three years ago with a small community garden spearheaded by the Red River Coalition of Community Gardeners. Founded by AgCenter Master Gardeners and community gardener volunteers, the coalition has operated as a nonprofit organization since 2012 and provides garden and nutrition programs in Shreveport area neighborhoods.

Special events featuring food, music and educational programs are held during the year, drawing people from all over the city, said Deborrah “Cookie” Coleman, founding president of the coalition and a community volunteer who grew up in the Stoner Hill neighborhood.

“By building relationships within their own neighborhood, local residents empower each other to make healthy lifestyle choices and gain the confidence to develop new relationships outside their community,” Coleman said, adding that the site has been a much-needed asset offering meeting space for coalition volunteers to plan and prepare for upcoming events.

While many community gardens thrive in the Shreveport area, only six sites function as Community Health Hubs.

The We Grow Together! campus received a substantial boost two years ago when a neighborhood home was donated to the City of Shreveport, moved on-site and renovated to meet training needs, Peterson said.

The city funded the $150,000 renovation, and Slow Food North Louisiana, a nonprofit partner, raised more than $6,000 to buy food preparation equipment.

Owned by the city of Shreveport and administered by the Office of Community Development, the We Grow Together! campus features six lots of land and includes an outdoor education center and demonstration vegetable garden in addition to the newly renovated house.

Other Community Health Hub sites are at Highland Gardens, Bernstein Development Inc., Seeds to Success in the downtown area, and two city community sites.

The Community Health Hub concept reflects the vision identified in the Shreveport Metropolitan Planning Commission’s Great Expectations: Shreveport-Caddo Vision for 2030, said Peterson, who served on the community advisory group. The city’s master plan set the stage for policy, system and environmental changes that opened doors for increased funding to launch the project, she said.

By building collaborations with volunteers, city and parish government, higher education, health agencies and nonprofit community groups, the Community Health Hub model took shape as a way to offer increased access to a variety of health-focused resources within individual neighborhoods.

Partnerships supporting the We Grow Together! Community Health Hub initiative include the LSU AgCenter, Slow Food North Louisiana, Red River Coalition of Community Gardeners, Northwest Louisiana Master Gardeners, Food Bank of Northwest Louisiana, LSU School of Allied Health, LSU Health, Community Foundation of North Louisiana, the Martin Luther King Health Center, the City of Shreveport and Louisiana Department of Health, Office of Public Health.

Karol Osborne is a writer with Communications.

(This article appears in the summer 2018 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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Keyera Perlesy shows off a handful of freshly picked peppers from the community garden at the We Grow Together! campus in the Stoner Hill neighborhood in Shreveport. The campus attracts all ages for hands-on learning programs focused on healthy living and gardening. Photo by Karol Osborne

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Deborrah “Cookie” Coleman (right), founding president of the Red River Coalition of Community Gardeners, and LSU AgCenter area nutrition agent Grace Peterson have worked with neighborhood volunteers to support a garden-based nutrition education program at the Stoner Hill community site for over three years. Photo by Karol Osborne

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The We Grow Together! Community Health Hub model campus opens the door for local residents to come together in a grassroots campaign to voice their concerns regarding needed health-related programs and services. President of the Red River Coalition of Community Gardeners Ruth Schlichtemier, Deborrah “Cookie” Coleman and LSU AgCenter area nutrition agent Grace Peterson promote health and nutrition-based programs at the site. Photo by Karol Osborne

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Keyera Perlesy (left) learns how to chop a cucumber for a garden fresh salad assisted by Red River Coalition of Community Gardeners volunteer Mary Dumars. Perlesy’s grandmother, Rosie Jacobs (right), is a Stoner Hill resident and frequently participates in We Grow Together! campus programs. Photo by Karol Osborne

9/17/2018 8:23:31 PM
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