Community-Academic Research News
April 2018
Detroit URC Board Partner Spotlight: An interview with Sheilah Clay, President and CEO of Neighborhood Service Organization
Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO) provides services that have impacted countless children, youth, adults, seniors, families, and communities since 1955. As a member of the Detroit URC’s Board, NSO contributes to the development of new community-based participatory research projects, capacity building and related activities.

President and CEO Sheilah Clay recently spoke with us about NSO’s work and involvement in Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR). Full text of the interview is available on

The mission of NSO is “Changing lives through innovative human services that harness the power of choice.” What does it mean to harness the power of choice?

It means that we’re driven by the decisions and the desires of the people we serve. When I do new employee orientation, I tell my staff that no matter what they bring to this job, they’re facilitators of someone else’s dream. They have to listen to the voice of the person who they’re trying to help, because change will only happen if they want it to happen. That’s why it’s the power of their choice – the power of their voice – that’s going to drive the change. Our goal is that one day they won’t need us. That’s what our mission statement is all about. We listen to their choices and stick with them as they make small changes, small accomplishments, and we celebrate those.

How did NSO first get involved with the Detroit URC? What do you gain from serving on the Detroit URC Board? 

We got involved with the Detroit URC because of Dr. Richard Lichtenstein, who has been on the NSO Board for many years, and he’s now the Board chair. The University of Michigan proposed to do some research at NSO, and initially my staff rejected the proposal. What we had experienced in the past was that researchers would come to a nonprofit to study some issue, some problem – and they would leave the agency the same way they found it. There was no benefit to the agency. So that’s why we initially rejected the proposed research.

Richard eventually got us involved with the first CBPR project we did to get children enrolled in Medicaid and health care. We formed a partnership with University of Michigan researchers to identify what the challenges and roadblocks were, and then we went after a grant together. Not only did the researchers come – that was so powerful – but when we got the grant together, we also worked together to get the children health care. We saw major outcomes from that partnership – Richard’s such an advocate for that.

In fact, Richard and I presented at a conference together and talked about the role that researchers can have – and should have – when they come into a community to study a problem. Part of a researcher’s responsibility is to help the community organization find ways to put solutions in place to solve the problem that has been identified.

We have a very high-poverty population, and the Detroit URC is doing work in poverty-reduction, which is a big bite. Being on the Detroit URC Board, and being part of an entity that values the work community organizations do, is important. The resources that a researcher has can help to tell the story of the issues in the community. Then we can address it because there’s data – and you can go find funding to put programming in place around the problem. Researchers with the Detroit URC are not just coming in and taking the data and going back to their school – they’re helping gather the data to get the resources to address the problem.

What initiatives are you currently working on? What are your goals for the next year?

At NSO, we’re focused on housing development, health care, and youth services to name a few. We have a new low-income housing tax credit award through the help of the mayor and the governor, so we’re going to be building housing. We’re also going to redesign our shelter program. It’s all about ending homelessness and getting you back into the workforce.

NSO is also continuing to work in the health care arena, especially as the state is moving toward rolling behavioral health under Medicaid. We want to help the Medicaid health plans to understand the value of the behavioral health providers that have been doing this work for years in the community.

Finally, we’re working with youth in leadership development programs, and also workforce development. We chose to work through the young people to break the cycle of poverty in their families. That’s where our focus is in terms of poverty reduction and why the workforce development program is so critical. We’re really trying to give some hope and solid futures to our youth. 
Featured Partnership: Healthy Environments Partnership
Since 2000, the Healthy Environment Partnership (HEP) has used a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach to promote heart health and health equity in Detroit. HEP is an affiliated partnership of the Detroit URC that studies and conducts interventions to better understand and address social determinants of racial and socioeconomic health inequities, with a particular focus on cardiovascular disease (CVD).

A complex set of social determinants of health influence health inequities. HEP has examined risk factors including stressful social and economic conditions in Detroit neighborhoods, neighborhood walkability, access to healthy foods, and air pollution – all of which affect the health of Detroit residents. HEP has also examined protective factors (e.g., social relationships, participation in walking groups) and their role in reducing disease risk and negativ e health outcomes.

“Discrimination sets back our communities in most areas important to living healthy thriving lives,” says Angie Reyes, Executive Director of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation and a founding partner in HEP. “Having led a non-profit organization in Detroit for 21 years, I have witnessed the detrimental effects it has had in our community.”

Recently, a team from HEP published research in Ethnicity and Health that demonstrates links between heightened self-reported institutional discrimination and increased blood pressure for Black and Latina/o adults. This paper builds upon accounts from residents, HEP, and multiple social movements that have documented increases in institutional and interpersonal discrimination towards communities of color.

Using data from a subset of the same Detroit residents over a six-year period in the early 2000s, the researchers measured institutional discrimination, including lifetime experiences of unfair treatment in work, education, by the police or immigration officials, housing, obtaining resources/money, or healthcare – measures that are part of the Acute Unfair Treatment Index, developed by David R. Williams and colleagues and first tested in the Detroit Area Study about 20 years ago. Blood pressure readings were collected three times during the course of interviews with participants. For this study, discrimination and blood pressure patterns were tracked over time by race and nativity.

The researchers found significant racial differences in discrimination patterns from 2002 to 2008, with non-Latino Black and Latina/o adults reporting greater increases in discrimination compared with non-Latino White adults. They also found that heightened institutional discrimination was more strongly associated with increases in blood pressure among non-Latino Black adults relative to non-Latino White adults and among Latina/o immigrants relative to US-born Latina/o adults.

“We know that discrimination makes us sick,” said Dr. Alana LeBron, lead author of the study. “These findings link increases in residents’ reports of discrimination with a sociopolitical context that has become more restrictive towards communities of color – increases in restrictive immigration policies, policing of communities of color, and an economic recession that disparately affected racial minority communities. We find that these incre ases in reports of institutional discrimination are linked with declines in cardiovascular health over a relatively short period of time: 6 years.”

Angie Reyes, a co-author of the paper, noted “Families worry about finances, access to equitable housing opportunities, having quality educational options for children and are being harassed by immigration officials; discriminatory practices just intensify the socioeconomic struggles our families are facing. These findings help shed light to those detrimental effects on people’s health and help change the narrative of being an individual issue to a systemic one.”

HEP Partner Organizations
  • Chandler Park Conservancy
  • Detroit Health Department
  • Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation
  • Eastside Community Network
  • Friends of Parkside
  • Henry Ford Health System
  • Institute for Population Health
  • University of Michigan School of Public Health
  • Community Members At-Large
Symposium Highlights Social Justice in Social Work Research
On March 9, 2018, Rogério M. Pinto, Associate Dean for Research at the University of Michigan School of Social Work and Detroit URC Board member, hosted a symposium celebrating social justice in social work research. The event included a talk by Dr. Pinto exploring the theme "Social Work Research Advances Social Justice: Our School's Contributions and Future Inspirations", followed by a lively group discussion including faculty, current students and alumni, stakeholders and community partners.

Dr. Pinto said, “In planning this event, I thought it was super important to bring together a diverse group of people to celebrate the rigorous and relevant research the School of Social Work has conducted in the past nearly 100 years and also to emphasize the Schools’ commitment to research that advances social justice.”

Three faculty members received the Social Justice Research Award during the symposium for their scholarly work and focus on social justice. The inaugural recipients of the award included Edie Keiffer, Professor of Social Work and long-time member of the Detroit URC Board. She was recognized for her work to address health inequities through community-based participatory research, including the REACH Detroit and Healthy Moms projects. Sandra Momper and David Cordova were recognized for their work to address American Indian health disparities and reducing HIV and drug abuse vulnerability, respectively. Both Drs. Momper and Cordova have received small planning grants for their work from the Detroit URC, and are members of the Community-Academic Research Network
Summer Course on Methods in CBPR
Are you interested in learning about participatory approaches to research and interventions that address complex determinants associated with public health problems, while equitably engaging community and academic partners? A one-week course at the University of Michigan provides an introduction to the core principles, concepts and methods involved in using a Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) approach.

Course: EPID 783 Methods in Community-Based Participatory Research for Health

Instructors: Barbara A. Israel, J. Ricardo Guzman, Edie Kieffer, Toby Lewis, Gloria Palmisano, Angela Reyes, Zachary Rowe, Amy Schulz

July 23-27, 2018 | Classes meet 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

This course will cover:
  • The rationale for, benefits of and challenges associated with using a community-academic partnership approach to research and interventions
  • Partnership formation, maintenance, and evaluation
  • Quantitative and qualitative methods for the purposes of community assessment, examining basic research questions, and developing and evaluating interventions
  • Feedback, interpretation, dissemination and application of research results.

Upcoming Events
  • um3detroit is an interdisciplinary gathering of researchers, educators, and students — from across the three University of Michigan campuses and Detroit-based organizations — to share and strengthen our connections to Detroit and each other. um3detroit will take place on Thursday, May 3rd, 2018, at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Please click here to register for this event.

  • Community-Campus Partnerships for Health is hosting “Structural Inequalities: An On the Ground View” – A Two-Day Spring Intensive on May 3rd and 4th in Chapel Hill, NC. Click here for more information.

  • Beyond the Ivory Tower is a two-day program June 5th and 6th at the U-M Detroit Center. The objectives of the conference are to build and strengthen community-university relationships, examine multiple perspectives of community-university relationships, and create/strengthen community-university partnerships. Click here for more information.
Our Partners in the News
How one Detroit community health center has been coping with budget uncertainty features the wor k of Community Health and Social Services, Inc. (CHASS) to advocate for funding for community health centers.

Increased Immigration Enforcement and Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Has Potential ‘Chilling Effect’ on Health Care Access. Paul Fleming and William Lopez write about their research, which recently received a Poverty Solutions grant.

Healthier Kids: An action plan for Michigan features insights from the Detroit Health Department and Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice.

Mayor Mike Duggan's State of the City to outline future for Detroit children. Eastside Community Network’s President Donna Givens says there's a concern among neighborhoods that have yet to be the focus for redevelopment and what their future may look like.

The Environmental Justice Work Group (EJWG), which includes Guy O. Williams of Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, sent recommendations to the Governor that improve environmental justice awareness and engagement in state and local agencies.
As the Detroit URC embarks on its third decade of fostering health equity through community-based participatory research (CBPR), we recognize that this important, collective work is only made possible through the ongoing collaboration among these exceptional partner organizations:  Communities In Schools Community Health and Social Services Center Detroit Health Department;   Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation Eastside Community Network Friends of Parkside Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice Latino Family Services Neighborhood Service Organization Institute for Population Health Henry Ford Health System The University of Michigan Schools of  Public Health Nursing and  Social Work . We have quite a team, and we are grateful.