June 20, 2021

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Healthy Life Forever

From Appalachian cities to hollers, community health workers are a ‘course correction to inclusion’ – PublicSource

This article was originally published by 100 Days in Appalachia, an independent, non-profit digital news publication incubated at the Media Innovation Center at the West Virginia University Reed College of Media. Sign up for their weekly newsletter here.

“Housing is health care,” says Jala Rucker, “a community health worker with Project Destiny in Pittsburgh. “It’s hard to think about anything else when your shelter is at risk.”

Project Destiny provides a variety of services to residents of otherwise underserved communities on the city’s northside. About 75 percent of the residents of these neighborhoods are Black, including a number of immigrants from throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Rucker serves as a liaison to health care and other services.

First and foremost, she listens.

Rucker’s path to this work began about six years ago, when she helped organize 86 families in her Manchester neighborhood who, along with her own family, were in danger of being evicted. The families were successful in their campaign to remain in their homes. She’d found a calling, one rooted in the power of place.

Rucker says she can relate to those she assists. “I come and knock on the door and have a glass of ice water, sit on the front porch,” she says. She assures them, “‘I walked in the same shoes that you’re walking in.’” She listens to their stories.

With Project Destiny in Pittsburgh, Jala Rucker is able to serve the community she grew up in, helping to build necessary trust to get people the care they need. Photo: David Smith/100 Days in Appalachia

Throughout Appalachia, in rural and urban and communities alike, a cadre of individuals are addressing their neighbors’ health care needs in the setting in which the most transformative change can occur: the community, the home.

Awareness is mounting among those in public health that the social determinants of health – the everyday exigencies of our lives – affordable housing, living-wage jobs, transportation, good schools, safe streets, social justice – often have a more profound effect on our health than medical care or genes. Increasingly, medical research shows social determinants are at the core of health disparities.