The aims of the UK Center for Appalachian Research in Environmental Sciences (UK-CARES) Community Outreach and Engagement Core (COEC) are to: 1) Increase awareness and knowledge among community partners about the environmental health research being conducted at the Center across the entire spectrum from basic science to community and population health research; 2) Increase community and stakeholder participation in community-engaged research to identify and communicate environmental concerns to UK-CARES investigators; and 3) Increase enrollment in citizen and academic training in science communication to leverage community-academic environmental health science partnerships.
In Aim 1, we use multi-modal outreach strategies (e.g., community events, media advocacy, social media, written materials/website) that engage community partners in developing dissemination plans and culturally appropriate outreach and messaging approaches.
Aim 2 uses multi-directional channels through which researchers can listen to the needs and concerns of local residents and community stakeholder organizations. Strategies include conducting focus groups with community health coalitions, environmental activists, work groups, ad hoc community groups, and healthcare entities.
In Aim 3, we adapt, evaluate, and integrate science communication workshops into our career development activities and ensure effective science communication with community stakeholders, and recognize excellence in community engagement. UK-CARES COEC is uniquely positioned to lead this effort due to our longstanding community-engaged research partnerships with citizens and community stakeholder organizations in three contiguous Area Development Districts located in southeastern Kentucky: Big Sandy, Kentucky River, and Cumberland Valley. Community members identify air and water quality impacts due to mining and fracking as critical concerns. We partner with five major community stakeholder organizations (Appalachian Citizens Law Center, Appalachian Voices, Area Health Education Centers, Center for Rural Strategies, and Headwaters, Inc.) and five community residents to advise the COEC. The COEC values the complex, heterogeneous nature of the communities of Appalachian Kentucky and their rich heritage, self-reliance, and pride of place. The COEC is tightly integrated into the organizational structure of UK-CARES with direct impact on community-informed Center decision making. The long-term goal is to create a strong, sustained community-academic partnership to support meaningful community engagement and environmental health literacy, leveraging these community perspectives to facilitate new understandings of environmental factors in disease initiation, progression, outcomes, and community impacts.