For School of Nursing PhD student Shanae Rhodes, BSN, RN, being one of six 2021-22 Community Engagement Small Project Grants program awardees was a game changer that would enable her to delve further into a topic close to her heart.
She was thrilled to learn that her community-based participatory research project — Mixed Methods Design Study among African American/Black Women Living in Texas Communities: The Pearl Project — would move forward with the help of a $5,000 grant from the Institute for Integration of Medicine and Science (IIMS).
Each year, the IIMS — the home of the Community Engagement Small Project Grants program — awards grants for important projects that support activities to integrate clinical and translational research across South Texas. Rhodes’ project focused on gaining insight about the health care experiences of Black women in the San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth communities.
“When you’re working on a project focusing on marginalized populations, when you have someone that believes in you, it gives you what you need to move forward,” Rhodes said of receiving the grant.
As part of the project, Rhodes worked with her community partners, Refuge III Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ and My Sister’s Keeper (MSK), a group that provides a platform for women to discuss their needs and experiences in the communities in which the MSK board members live — San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth.
Rhodes and her co-investigators — Janna Lesser, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor, School of Nursing, and Shirley Fennell, PhD, RNC, BSN, MSHP, My Sister’s Keeper board member and treasurer — expanded on an initial study that sought to determine what resources were available in the San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth communities for Black women and what resources were needed. Based on that research, health care disparities emerged as an important issue that needed to be addressed.
When the personal becomes participatory
For the researchers, the project is personal. The name of Rhodes’ project — The Pearl Project — was named after Fennell’s mother, Irene “Pearl” White, whose last health care experience prior to her death “uncovered the issue of an African American/Black woman and her family not being heard by those within her own community,” Fennell said. “Like Irene White, many other African American/Black women have had similar experiences.”
“This [second project] kind of blew up from that [first project] because you had so many women who were part of our platform during our monthly meetings,” said MSK board member and secretary Bathsheba Davis. “We started seeing systemic issues and it ballooned because it wasn’t just personal anymore.”
The Community Engagement Small Projects grant was used to incentivize project participants and cover transcription costs, supply costs and consultation fees so they could begin their research.
During the yearlong project, 175 women took anonymous surveys and focus groups were conducted so the women could share their health care experiences and provide insight about how they dealt with those experiences to have better health outcomes for themselves and their loved ones.
Rhodes, along with her co-investigators and community partners, are interpreting the extensive data they collected to create an action plan to address health care disparities in the San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth communities.
Recently, Rhodes and several MSK board members presented a poster and abstract about their IIMS-funded project at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth at the 18th Annual Texas Conference on Health Disparities and received first place for their entry.
Davis said receiving first place indicated that the women who participated in the research project were heard and acknowledged.
“It personally was like we were shouting and we were finally heard as a collective group,” she said. “Yes, we are a small group of African American women from various backgrounds, but we were heard as we exposed the disparities that exist still.”
Grants that keep giving
As Rhodes’ project nears its conclusion, Nia Lane-Nelson, BSN, RN, PhD candidate, Nursing Science, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, is embarking on her research project: The Perceived Life Experiences of Black African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church Members and their Influence on Health.
“I was very, very shocked, but very appreciative at the same time,” Lane-Nelson said about learning that she was one of eight recent 2023-24 Community Engagement Small Project Grants program awardees. “It’s great seeing that along with your community members and your church who backs you up and supports you … the university and IIMS also back up and support this as well.”
Working with her community partners, UT Health San Antonio’s School of Nursing and the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, Lane-Nelson will conduct in-depth interviews with members of the church to understand what occurred during their lives that might have contributed to their state of health. Lesser, the co-investigator on Rhodes’ project, will also serve as a co-investigator on Lane-Nelson’s project along with the Rev. N. Jordan Mkwanazi of Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The grant will enable Lane-Nelson to cover project costs.
Her project is the second phase of an earlier project she undertook to interview the church members during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to describe Black church members’ experiences in their community and to identify community needs.
After Lane-Nelson completes her project, she hopes the findings will lead to phase three — putting an intervention in place to help members of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church community in the key areas determined by her findings.
Lesser, who worked with Lane-Nelson and Rhodes on their projects, said both projects greatly benefit the community.
“They’re the model of how a good community-based participatory project can work,” Lesser said.
The next Community Engagement Small Project Grants program cycle will be announced in December 2023 at the Community Engagement Symposium.
To learn more about the 2023-24 Community Engagement Small Project Grants program awardees and their projects, click here.