Penn State partnership helping urban communities

Asthma, obesity, and behavior problems are just a few of the risks low-income and minority children face, but a Penn State-community partnership is providing support to help these families through a variety of research projects.

This initiative, Parents and Children Together (PACT), is a part of Penn State’s Harrisburg Center for Healthy Child Development (HCHCD) and promotes research on the health and well-being of diverse children, youth, and families. PACT fosters community partnerships with Penn State to improve science and outreach and be a model of community engaged research.

Funded by Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute, PACT was formed in 2007 after developmental and family researchers expressed a need for increasing the diversity of families in their research studies. “Prior to this initiative, efforts to recruit families with infants and young children from underserved urban areas in Harrisburg were very challenging,” said Kristin Buss, PACT and HCHCD director and professor of psychology at Penn State. “Community leaders said families felt a lack of reciprocity and were concerned that participation in research would not benefit them or the community.”

In order to overcome barriers of doing research within the community, improve community-university relations, and build trust with lower income and minority families, Penn State researchers consulted with community leaders and a community advisory board was created. “Through the board, researchers established a presence in the community and discovered ways of giving back and providing research support to build stronger families and neighborhoods,” Buss explained.

The community advisory board discovered families have a strong desire and vested interest in being a part of the research process. Through the board, community leaders and members provide feedback to researchers and work with them to maximize the potential for successful projects in the community, as researchers ensure the community’s needs receive attention. “Community input is critical to conducting culturally sensitive and meaningful research,” said Buss.

PACT is unique in that it provides both community and project resources and serves as a connection between Penn State and the community. Some of this research is accompanied by intervention, while other families in studies directly benefit from parenting workshops, staff trainings, having their voices heard, and receiving support from other families. Additionally, research projects also bring employment and educational opportunities to the community.

PACT resources include a three-room observation lab equipped with ambulatory electrocardiogramand video recording equipment. In addition, Carmen Henry-Harris, community outreach coordinator, promotes PACT throughout the Harrisburg community. “Carmen forges new relationships with community organizations and establishes recruitment sites for the multiple PACT studies collecting data in Harrisburg,” Buss said.

Use of the lab is open to Penn State researchers whose project demonstrates a benefit to the Harrisburg community. For more information on PACT or to submit a proposal, contact Buss at kbuss@psu.edu or (814) 863-1715.