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A Picture and a Thousand Words

By Phil Bors on September 25th, 2019

Youth share their perspective of their own communities through Photovoice.

In a recent blog post, Project Manager Daijah Street Davis highlighted how Healthy Places by Design has supported the Aetna Foundation’s Cultivating Healthy Communities (CHC) grant program by co-creating and coordinating a peer learning network that connects nearly 50 place-based partnerships in 18 states. Specifically, she shared about virtual learning between community organizations in different parts of the country that have a common focus on youth leadership and engagement.

One of these organizations, the YWCA of New Britain, is a lead agency for a CHC grant and centers its community engagement efforts at a newly-opened House of Teens Center. Facilitators from Central Connecticut State University trained and provided opportunities for “teen researchers and activists” to better understand community health issues where they live, articulate how they see their neighborhood through Photovoice, and advocate for local change.

In addition to being a tool for youth engagement, Photovoice is a participatory research technique that uses photo (or video) imagery to document and communicate the lived experiences of people and their neighborhoods. The Photovoice approach in New Britain initiates critical conversations about health, safety, environmental exposures, equity, and solutions to address these issues. This approach helps young people document what they see on a daily basis, find their voices to advocate for more equitable spaces where they live, and build skills and confidence along the way.

From the outset of their projects, New Britain teens were concerned about safety, poor health, and community relations with law enforcement. Although the pictures speak for themselves, we have also included the reflections below, which were written by the teen researchers and used data from the online resource, City Health Dashboard.1 Teens were excited and empowered when they saw how environmental conditions documented by their photographs were linked to metrics such as mental distress, lead levels, and life expectancy. Ultimately, these young leaders from New Britain impressed policy makers and community members alike as they displayed their images and data at public meetings and neighborhood events. In fact, organizers have initiated discussions with the staff of Senator Bizzarro (pictured above) about a curriculum for the high school, incorporating key elements of Photovoice, that would train and prepare teens for careers as certified community health workers.

Teen Researcher Photos and Reflections:

Danya Alboslani, Stephanie Faraco, Julissa Gomez, and Jason Zuchowicz

"This sidewalk can be a safety hazard for kids/teens who are playing or running on the sidewalk, seeing that it is very easy for them to trip and get injured. Senior citizens are also at risk of injury. In addition, having blight and neighborhoods that are unsafe, due to the lack of maintenance, discourages physical activity. This picture also represents the condition of the neighborhood that it is in. Just like the way that the sidewalk is deteriorating and neglected by the city, so is the condition of the neighborhood unsafe and unkempt. This leads to the adults and children staying inside more with technology because they don’t feel joy going out. This discourages neighbors to converge with each other and make the neighborhood feel like a community."

Photovoice1

"This is a sewer drain on the East side of New Britain. Littering has become so normal in our lives that we can walk by it blindly and not care about what it does to our environment. This makes me sad because right next to this there are two abandoned buildings that create an eye sore, on top of the littering, and can also cause lead exposure. This census tract has one of the highest lead exposure rates in New Britain. The lead exposure risk is at 10 on 10-point scale. The national average across 500 cities is 5.5."

Photovoice2

"This is Israel Putnam School, which has been abandoned since the 1980s and is still standing to this day. It exemplifies the things that are not changing in the community, and consequently, it negatively impacts nearby residents. Personally speaking, I live only a few streets away from the building. If I were to live directly by it, I know that it would generate some anxiety over the people it may attract. Overall, it is an unattractive symbol of neglect that damages the reputation of the neighborhood and reminds neighbors of the building’s distress. Furthermore, the building itself poses a large health risk for neighboring people or people who enter. The building’s structural instability coupled with carcinogenic building materials pose many severe health risks. Census data has revealed the area as a 9 out of 10 rating for lead exposure in buildings. A solution to this would be to simply take down the building and replace it with a new business that can benefit the community. Unfortunately, this decision relies mostly on a private investor that owns the property, but similar concerns still apply to many abandoned buildings in general that are public property."

Photovoice3

"This is a new Jamaican restaurant called Kencarlou that just opened in downtown New Britain. This is a positive change in our community because it brings more diverse culture to our city. In our community we already have some Latin, Polish, German, and Italian restaurants and this just adds to it. This restaurant brings a positive feeling to the people who live and visit our city because they will be exposed to more cultures and feel welcomed because there’s a place for everyone."

Photovoice4
References

First photo, from left to right: Jayme Hannay, Jason Zuchowicz, Senator Gennarro Bizzarro, Stephanie Faraco, Ana Arevalo, Fredy Rios

1 City Health Dashboard is sponsored by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and was developed, maintained, and hosted by New York University.

Author
Phil Bors
Phil Bors

Technical Assistance Director

Generous advisor, weeknight advocate, and active weekender.