Fellows complete public health projects with local organizations

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This summer, Jenna Borovinsky ‘22 and Alexus Gian ‘20 worked on public health projects in Upstate New York as a part of the Upstate Institute Summer Field School. Jenna worked with Pathfinder Village, a small village-like community for individuals with Down syndrome, while Alexus partnered with the Madison County Department of Health. While their experiences and community partners were quite different, they both appreciated the opportunity to have a positive impact on public health in the Central New York region. Below, they describe their experiences.

Jenna Borovinsky '22 working with Pathfinder Village

My Field School Fellowship this summer was with Pathfinder Village, which is located in Edmeston, NY. Pathfinder Village is a community in which people with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities are able to thrive and find their talents and values. Pathfinder Village has numerous programs, such as Otsego Academy, which is a college program I had the incredible opportunity to volunteer with during spring break of 2019. They offer elementary school programs to independent living and everything in between. It is an amazing community which includes a produce market that also serves as a mobile market program. It is the mobile market program that I am specifically working with this summer. The mobile market program is a produce delivery service that serves Otsego County, NY making it a program directly impacting the community around Pathfinder Village.  The mobile market program entails delivering fresh produce (along with recipes) to low-income, food insecure, or chronically ill individuals, and brings together the whole community. The program is run by members of Pathfinder Village with developmental disabilities making it a very meaningful work opportunity.

My specific duties during this internship included researching food deserts and food insecurity in rural regions. Additionally, I looked at the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables and how that affects health.  I also researched social determinants of health in Otsego County and went through Community Needs Assessment Surveys for Otsego County. Furthermore, each produce recipient was given an initial survey and then another survey six months later. A great portion of my research involved going through the 200 surveys and then analyzing and comparing them. The surveys show very promising results. I also made very meaningful connections with other mobile market programs, as well as had the chance to interview produce recipients. The goal of all of this research was to accumulate more data to help improve these issues and help gain the attention of insurance companies to gain more funding for this mobile market program which has shown to be super impactful on the community in improving some of these barriers. In 2019, a proposal was accepted to expand the program with another 50 vouchers to Lantern Hill Mobile Home Park in Oneonta, NY, with the goal of expanding the program to neighboring counties. This program has been extremely successful. However, because there are individuals in Otsego County itself who qualify and are on the waitlist, the original program is clearly popular and needs more funding.

I wanted to become a Field School Fellow because I wanted to work with a non-profit organization and become involved in the community around Colgate.  I have gained so much interest in public health while participating in this fellowship. Specifically focusing on Otsego County itself, in looking at the social determinants of health in just a single community made me realize the enormous inequalities that exist in the health and wellness industry. Simple things such as the distance a grocery store is something I take way too much for granted. In communities such as Otsego County, convenient stores can count as grocery stores, despite having limited amounts of fruits and vegetables available. Furthermore, the prices of healthy produce as compared to junk food is enormous, which seems to make little sense in improving the health of individuals. The unhealthy eating habits caused by these social determinants result in more medical conditions and hospital stays, which could be limited with more funding in mobile market programs like the one Pathfinder Village has to offer. 

Alexus Gian '20 working with the Madison County Department of Health

This summer, I had the exciting opportunity to intern at the Madison County Department of Health (MCDOH). MCDOH in partnership with local community hospitals had identified in the most recent Community Health Assessment that alcohol misuse is a priority area for Madison County. Hence, my project this summer was to develop a health issue profile to conduct a comprehensive assessment of alcohol misuse in the county. The profile focused on excessive alcohol use, which includes behaviors such as binge drinking, heavy drinking, underage drinking and any alcohol use by pregnant women. The profile also discussed alcohol-related motor vehicle injuries and deaths. We were interested in comparing the current state of alcohol misuse at the national, state and county levels, in identifying risk and protective factors and high-risk populations for alcohol misuse, as well as discussing the effects of alcohol misuse at the individual, family and community levels.

One of the elements of the profile included surveying Madison County youths on their perceptions of alcohol use among their peers and the adults in their communities. I created an online survey and worked closely with community organizations that serve youths to refine the questions for the survey. The survey was primarily qualitative in order for us to capture youth perceptions, and the findings of the survey were included in the profile. Eventually the finalized health profile will be shared with county leadership, community partners and the general public. The findings and recommendations for addressing the issue in the profile may be used to inform current and future alcohol-related initiatives.

I have always been interested in public health and am so grateful that I had the opportunity to work in it this summer through the Field School. This experience has given me a glimpse into the challenges and demands of working in public health. For instance, I learnt that rural areas face barriers in accessing health care and that because of that certain high-risk groups are likely to feel adverse consequences more strongly. One of the most rewarding aspects of this internship was the sense that I was helping the local community to address a serious health concern. I enjoyed working closely with community partners and felt very involved in the process. This experience has been very meaningful and I am thankful for the guidance and opportunity given by the Upstate Institute and the MCDOH.