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Center for Adolescent Health

Center for Adolescent Health Blog

Diversity Summer Internship Program Reflections 

By Ashley Patricia Parra

Beth Marshall and Ashley Patricia Parra standing next to Ashley's research poster

This summer I had the opportunity to intern at the Center for Adolescent Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, specifically under Dr. Beth Marshall. I evaluated outcomes of the U Choose Coalition’s teen pregnancy prevention initiative, which began in 2015. Through the initiative, sexual health education was implemented in middle schools, high schools, and Title X clinics all over Baltimore City. Prior to this program, Baltimore City schools did not have a cohesive health education or sexual health education curricula. My project was focused on analyzing trends in teen birth rates, rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea, as well as changes in sexual risk behavior over time.

Though my background is in psychology, I am so grateful to have been able to do a project evaluating the outcomes of a sexual health education, as I think that this type of curricula is necessary and should be taught in all schools to inform and empower youth. The type of work being done in the Center is holistic, and the researchers and staff there constantly think about centering youth voices and practicing equity. I am so lucky to have been able to work in this type of environment.

After the internship I will begin working for the Arizona chapter of 4-H, a national youth development organization. I believe that everything I learned during my time at the Center for Adolescent Health—what it means to engage with community members in an equitable way, how to revise a mission/vision statement, how to be cognizant of including practices that move towards being a sustainable anti-racist organization, and how to engage with different stakeholders to complete common goals—prepared me for my new job and informed me on the type of conversations that need to be had and questions that need to be asked in order to sustain equitable practices in all of the work that I do.

I really loved my time here in Baltimore. The cohort of DSIP interns all became close friends of mine, and it was so nice to be able to do work together and explore Baltimore and DC with them. I also learned so much throughout my time interning with the CAH, and I am so grateful to the faculty, staff, researchers, community and youth advisory board members who shared their lived experiences and wisdom with me. I am beyond grateful for all of these experiences.

By Jerrell Bratcher

Teen participants of HeartSmiles Summer Institute have been working on The Granny Project, which aims to help close the gap on food insecurity among youth by bringing healthy, well-balanced meals to our Baltimore communities.

The Granny Project is a nutrition program concept developed by the young people in the HeartSmiles Summer Institute. This program is a multi-generational approach to food insecurity and will pair youth with senior citizens—grannies and granddaddies—who are strong figures in their community and have a passion for cooking. The grannies and granddaddies will prepare a popular, traditional family recipe side-by-side with youth. Each granny and granddaddy will cook with small groups of teens as cross-generational relationships between the grandparents and young people deepen and the young people will develop cooking skills. The Granny Project program will be held at community kitchens in Baltimore City four times each month. Youth participants will be able to earn a ServSafe Food Handler and ServSafe Manager certifications. Each session will have an online media component, allowing youth to share their experiences and what they are learning with their peers through social media.

The first Granny Project event will be on August 1, 2019, from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. at CitySeeds, 1412 N Wolfe St, Baltimore, MD 21213. Currently, we have three grandparents and 60 youth participating.  

HeartSmiles is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving young people in Baltimore City who want to turn their great ideas into thriving small businesses. Since 2015 HeartSmiles founder Joni Holifield has dedicated her life to serving youth and young adults in Baltimore City. She became a partner and friend of the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health in 2016 through a Youth Leadership and Advocacy Network group focused on the Baltimore City Health Department’s Youth Health and Wellness Strategy. Since that time, HeartSmiles has become a key partner to the Center’s Youth Advisory Board. The partnership supports the mission and vision of the Center by applying and demonstrating the Center’s core principles of love, trust, commitment and respect with special emphasis on equity. The Center’s Youth Advisory Board, HeartSmiles Thriving Thursdays, and HeartSmiles Summer Institute represent the diversity of Baltimore adolescents across many backgrounds, socioeconomic status, neighborhood and age. Resources, support, and relationships with caring adults help to level the field for young people who are often stigmatized by the neighborhood in which they reside, what school they attend, their family’s access to resources and their mental health status.

HeartSmiles vision is to instill hope, passion, sense of belonging and an entrepreneurial spirit within youth living in under-privileged communities so that they might realize and harness their strength to break generational cycles of mindset and financial poverty. HeartSmiles mission is to motivate, inspire and empower Baltimore's youth to BMORE through the idea of entrepreneurship and leadership.

HeartSmiles programs teach youth the fundamentals of starting and sustaining a small business; teach youth how to identify and demonstrate character traits of an effective people leader; and help youth build confidence, self-esteem and self-worth through self-discovery and acceptance.

Special thanks to our program’s event partners and sponsors:

Bloomberg Philanthropies

Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Baltimore

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

The Johns Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Adolescent Health

Bloomberg Baltimore Summer YouthWorks Fellows

The Mayor’s Office of Employment Development

Urban Alliance

Living Classrooms Foundation

The Black Mental Health Alliance

City Seeds

Connie’s Chicken & Waffle’s

Johns Hopkins Office of Government & Community Affairs

Connect & follow:

heartsmilesmd                  HeartSmiles, LLC          heartsmilesmd


Jerrell Bratcher                       Star Rollins    

443-768-1661 (cell)                602-552-4954 (cell)

Joni Holifield, CEO & Founder, HeartSmiles /

443-271-4075 (cell)


“Baltimore’s heartbeat for youth advocacy, youth service, youth development, and youth leadership.”


Thriving Thursdays

Joni Holified has started a new program, #ThrivingThursdays, for 20 young people ages 16-21 to provide them with mentorship and enrichment opportunities with the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Center for Adolescent Health. CAH’s Community Engagement Director Katrina Brooks supports Holifield by coordinating meeting logistics, organizing experiential opportunities, and leading mindfulness activities during the weekly meetings. At the group’s first meeting, the young people created vision boards about their goals and aspirations. Holified led a group discussion on the theme: “What’s one thing we should know that people don’t know about you?” Through funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, Holifield is able to host a home-cooked dinner at each meeting. Brooks said, “More and more, we need to identify safe spaces for young people. It’s important the Center is a safe space where adolescents come into contact with caring adults.”

Center for Adolescent Health team

Photo of the CAH Team
Back row from left: Lauren Burns, Morgan Prioleau, Kristin Mmari, Philip Leaf
Front row from left: Beth Marshall, Terri Powell, Sushma Chapagain, Renee Johnson, Tamar Mendelson, Katrina Brooks, Ann Herbert

The Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health (CAH) has received funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a Prevention Research Center for the 2019-2024 grant cycle. 

The new cycle begins September 30, 2019, extending CAH’s tenure as a Prevention Research Center, which began in 1993. CAH’s mission is to assist urban youth in becoming healthy and productive adults by contributing to improved youth population health, elimination of youth health disparities, and achievement of health equity for young people.

The CDC PRC program funds academic institutions to conduct core research projects targeting underserved populations with a prevention focus. Our core research project for the new cycle will identify and disseminate strategies for promoting economic stability for low-income youth, a key social determinant of health across the life course. Grads2Careers—an initiative launched by Baltimore’s Promise, the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, and Baltimore City Public Schools—provides free job training and a path to employment for Baltimore City graduating seniors not headed to college. Our core research project will assess how a variety of health factors are related to youth participation in Grads2Careers and to longer-term youth employment and health outcomes. This project will build on a process evaluation of Grads2Careers that CAH researchers are currently conducting through a contract with Baltimore’s Promise to aid in refining program implementation.

Other exciting developments at CAH are underway. In the past year, we have undergone a leadership transition with Tamar Mendelson taking on the role of Director, and we began a strategic planning process to refine our mission and vision, identify priorities for advancing adolescent health, and prepare for the new CDC cycle. We now have an active Youth Advisory Board that meets biweekly to advise CAH and have invited new Community Advisory Board members to join the Board. We recently held a dinner to bring together the YAB, CAB, and core CAH team for the first time, reflect on the Center’s history using a “journey scroll,” and refine our plans for the next phase in CAH’s journey. We will consolidate these plans at a summer retreat with facilitation from our strategic planning advisors, Geri Peak, Mindelyn Anderson, and their Mirror Gems Consulting Services team.

Over the past months, we also convened a meeting of faculty studying adolescent health across Hopkins to explore potential collaborations and joint initiatives and will be meeting with a smaller group to move that conversation forward. We continue to build synergies with the Bloomberg American Heath Initiative in the area of public health strategies for preventing youth disconnection. We recently received several pilot grants through the Bloomberg Initiative to advance key areas of our work, including adolescent food insecurity, trainings for youth-serving organizations, and a toolkit for creating and sustaining youth advisory boards. CAH and the Bloomberg Initiative are hosting an event at Hopkins this fall along with the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office on career pathways for opportunity youth.

CAH welcomes collaboration and connection. Please feel free to reach out to Tamar Mendelson.

This month, we're featuring a guest post by Dr. Stephanie Akoumany, the founder and CEO of Bloom. Bloom curates leadership, mindfulness, wellness, diversity, equity, inclusion, and conflict resolution conferences, programs, and online courses for schools, universities, nonprofits, and businesses.

Dr. Akoumany earned her Ph.D. in American Studies at University of Maryland, College Park in May 2018. She is a proud former Baltimore City Public Schools student and a graduate of the Bryn Mawr School.

She organized and hosted the 2019 Bloom Wellness Summit for girls and educators held here at JHSPH in partnership with the Center for Adolescent Health. We asked Dr. Akoumany to reflect on why wellness is an important component of a young person's development.

Young girls and educators at the Bloom Wellness Summit.

By Dr. Stephanie Akoumany 

How Educators and Parents Can Help Girls Thrive

When you were in middle school who and what did you need to thrive?

Over the last 9 years, I have spoken with hundreds of students, and they consistently say they wish they had more meaningful relationships with the teens and adults in their lives. They want advice about navigating cyberbullying, peer pressure, dating, academics, implicit bias, microaggressions, and experiences with racial tokenism.

As educators how can we best help them? It’s imperative to provide meaningful and consistent opportunities for young people to share who they are and who they want to be and what resources they need to thrive. We also have to ask ourselves these same questions and understand what wellness means to us.

Research shows that when students consistently learn and practice mindfulness, social-emotional learning, and self-care, these strategies can help them feel more balanced and empowered when confronting everyday challenges.

Schools should aim to address the seven dimensions of wellness: emotional, environmental, intellectual, academic/occupational, physical, social, and spiritual. Princeton UMatter Wellness has several resources for adults and young people to learn more about wellness and create goals for achieving wellbeing.

My Take on Wellness

We feel most “well” when we believe we have the freedom to express ourselves, create our own realities, design our lives, make healthy decisions, embrace growth mindsets, take on empowering habits, cultivate honest relationships, and lead productive lifestyles that help us achieve our goals.

Optimal wellness is also being able to tap into our passions, rediscover who we are, follow our hearts, make mistakes, learn lessons, follow our instincts, and take calculated risks that fulfill our spirits. It starts with a belief that we are worthy.

Once faculty and administrators set their intentions to cultivate school cultures that support health and wellness, they just have to plant seeds of change (for programming, curriculum design, and student experience), and watch their communities bloom.

What Girls Say They Need

For my dissertation, I led a longitudinal[TM2] research study to learn about 55 black middle school girls' resilience strategies and perceptions of their life experiences and interpersonal relationships at a Baltimore City public school from 2010 to 2013. I found that when girls are given the time to engage in mindfulness meditation, storytelling, play, dance, art, self-expression, and community building they can build on the social-emotional learning, self-care, and resilience strategies they already have. The Bloom Wellness Summit helped girls to do just that.

2019 Bloom Wellness Summit

We brought 30 girls and 7 educators together from Baltimore City public, charter, & independent schools to engage in powerful discussions and activities about the effects of stress and how self-care, visual and performance art, yoga, music, storytelling, mindfulness meditation, and healthy living practices can help girls and educators live their best lives.

  • Our guests learned how to deepen their mind-body connection through AfroFusion dance, meditation, and yoga.
  • They engaged in powerful joint discussions about each other’s experiences, hopes, and dreams for creating inclusive school communities that support student and educator wellness goals.
  • The girls and their educators learned how a tech industry CEO strives to create work life balance, prioritize wellness, and create products that contribute to women’s health.
  • Our guests also played, created, shared, and listened to music from ukuleles. Participants shared their own stories, found their own rhythm, and used their voices as they learned frequently used chords on ukuleles.  

Thank you to the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, Bryn Mawr School, Franklin Square Elementary/Middle School, and Friends School of Baltimore for sharing your stories, brainstorming solutions, and creating blueprints for girls’ wellness programs at your schools.  

I would like to thank Dr. Terri Powell and Dr. Tamar Mendelson, and the entire Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health team for seeing Bloom’s vision and partnering with us to make the Bloom Wellness Summit a reality! You all are amazing!

Thanks to our workshop leaders Aliyah Moneá - Founder of Organic Movement Atelier, Ms. Jamila Sams, M.Ed. , Founder and CEO of Go to Ms. Sams, Dr. Tanesha Leathers-Braxton, Arion Long Founder and CEO of Femly, and musician Kathryn Para for leading such fun and engaging sessions!

Thanks to our amazing partners Honeygrow Charles Village, Pure Raw Juice Federal Hill, and Tropical Smoothie Cafe Halethorpe for helping us provide the girls and their teachers with healthy wraps, HoneyBars, and juice!  

Thanks to Johns Hopkins University and University of Maryland School of Nursing Professor Rhonda Smith Wright and Lynn Desamours for setting the tone for a wonderful day and helping us stay organized!

If you want to attend, speak at, or sponsor the 2020 Bloom Wellness Summit please visit

Bloom offers Bloom & Flow wellness programs and online courses for schools, non profits, and businesses. Bloom & Flow sessions will help participants have fun, express themselves, improve social emotional-learning skills, build community, set goals, and learn how to enter flow states so that they can tap into their creativity and productivity in and out of school.