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Center for Adolescent Health

Center for Adolescent Health Blog

By Todd Allen Wilson

The JHSPH Center for Adolescent Health and the youth at HeartSmiles won the Urban Health Institute’s 2020 Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award for their Granny Project effort to reduce food insecurity among youth in Baltimore.

Henrietta Lacks was a Black Baltimore native and Johns Hopkins patient. Without her consent or knowledge Johns Hopkins’ doctors and researchers collected and harvested her cells. While her cell line continues to produce life-saving medical advancements, her story is just one example of how public health and medical systems have historically taken advantage of and often abused African-American communities. The award is part of Johns Hopkins efforts to correct past mistakes and build a stronger Baltimore in partnership with the communities of the city.

With 25 percent of Baltimore youth facing food insecurity, HeartSmiles founder Joni Holifield met with CAH Director Tamar Mendelson, associate professor Kristin Mmari and Community Relations Director Katrina Brooks to find ways to involve the city’s young people in researching the extent of the problem and finding solutions.

“It’s really important that we don’t try to solve the problems facing young people without having young people be part of the discussion,” Mendelson said.

Members of the CAH Youth Advisory Board and the young people at HeartSmiles known as Heartbeats were trained and conducted qualitative research with their peers. They found that many young people facing food insecurity in Baltimore commit crimes including armed robbery and prostitution to eat.

The youth also developed the Granny Project that serves as a safe space for Baltimore young people to deal with food insecurity and connects them with community elders who give cooking lessons on how to prepare cheap, healthy family meals.

“Our job was to make it a safe home or safe place for people to talk to us about what their going through; talk to us about how they may not know what they’re going to eat that night,” said Heartbeat and Granny Project member Summer Rhoades.

Summer said working on the project changed her from an introvert to an active leader among her peers. She credits that to HeartSmiles.

“It showed me it doesn’t matter where you’re from, this program helps you get to where you want to be,” she said.

Holifield started HeartSmiles in the wake of the unrest following the death of Freddy Grey while in the custody of Baltimore police as she recognized the frustration and heartache in the young people from the community she grew up in.

While Mendelson, Brooks, Mmari and almost anyone who has worked with her sings her praises, Holifield insists receiving the award and the success of HeartSmiles goes to the “Heartbeats who are helping to move Baltimore forward.”

“I have a hard time taking the credit because I feel like I’m just doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” Holifield said. “I know the young people in our charge right now are truly going to be the leaders of this world.”

The Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award also includes a $15,000 prize.

Dr. Renee M. Johnson has been appointed Vice Chair of Diversity, Equity, Incusion (DEI) for the JHSPH Mental Health Department.

"In her new role, Renee will lead our department’s diversity, equity and inclusion activities, including chairing our department committee for diversity, equity, and inclusion (which is yet to be officially named, but may follow the school’s IDARE initiative label (Inclusion, Diversity, Anti-Racism, and Equity)). In addition, she will serve on the School’s IDARE committee to help implement unified school-level strategies, joined by diversity leaders from other departments of the School. Importantly, in her role as a Vice Chair, she will help us hold the department accountable to IDARE principles in all activities and decision making," the Mental Health Department Chair Dr. Margaret Daniele Fallin said in announcing the appointment.

Dr. Johnson is the Training Core Lead in the Center for Adolescent Health, as well as working in the Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy Research, the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Bloomberg American Health Initiative.

The Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has appointed Terrinieka Powell, PhD, MA, as Vice Chair, Inclusion, Diversity, Anti-Racism and Equity (IDARE). 

Dr. Powell is expert in the field of adolescent health and community engagement. A major focus of her research and professional interest has been improving the health and well-being of Black youth through partnerships with youth, churches, schools, libraries, families, health departments and community-based organizations.  She has collaborated with institutions to promote educational attainment and prevent teen pregnancy, HIV, and substance use among adolescents of color.

"It’s an honor to serve my department and the school in this capacity," Dr. Powell said. "I’m looking forward to working with students, staff and faculty to help create a place where everyone feels welcomed, heard valued and respected."

Powell is Associate Professor in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at Bloomberg School of Public Health.  She also directs the C. Sylvia and Eddie C. Brown Community Health Scholarship Program which trains future public health leaders who are committed to eliminating health disparities in Baltimore and other cities.  Powell is a core faculty member of the Center for Adolescent Health and the Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health.

“We are thrilled that Dr. Powell has assumed this role,” says Cynthia Minkovitz, MD, MPP, chair of the Bloomberg School’s Department of Population, Family, & Reproductive Health and William H. Gates Sr. Professor.  “Her commitment to addressing disparities and collaborative spirit will inspire new approaches to promote diversity and equity within our department and school community.” 

Prior to joining Bloomberg School of Public Health, Powell received her MA and PhD from DePaul University in 2006 and 2009 in Community Psychology.  She also completed a postdoctoral research fellowship focused on community-based participatory research with the W.K. Kellogg Health Scholars Program at the University of Michigan.  

For more information on IDARE, please read the announcement by Dean MacKenzie and Assistant Dean Joel Bolling.

To increase the uptake of mental health support programs for students in middle schools it’s important for advocates to understand the individual, school-level and macro factors that lead administrators to adopt a program, according to a journal article from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Center for Adolescent Health’s (CAH) Project POWER initiative.

Using the trauma-informed universal prevention program RAP (Relax, be Aware, and do a Personal Rating) Club intervention adapted for low-income urban eighth-grade students – which consisted of two 45-minute sessions a week for six weeks) in 20 Baltimore City Public Schools, the researchers found that individual administrator, school-wide and macro (including district level) level factors went into whether an individual school adopted the intervention.

Published in the journal Prevention Science, the study “Factors that Influenced adoption of a School-Based Trauma-Informed Universal Mental Health Intervention” found that administrators with personal understanding of the trauma faced by their student community and need for intervention coupled with a lack of mental health supports for students in schools, and a school district that has said this issue is a priority made strong candidates for school-based adoption of a program.

“The study’s findings suggest strategies to increase school program adoption in the context of research and, more broadly, for implementation science,” the study’s authors – Kimberly T. Arnold, Keisha M. Pollack Porter, Shannon Frattaroli, Rachel E, Durham, Kristin Mmari, Laura K. Clary and Tamar Mendelson – write.

Read the study here.

See the Project POWER Report to Partners here

Our goal with the Project POWER (Promoting Options for Wellness and Emotion Regulation) school-based intervention is to evaluate the potential benefits of a trauma-informed coping skills program called RAP (Relax, be Aware, and do a Personal Rating) Club for the emotional health and academic success of eighth grade students.

We compared RAP Club with a health education program called Healthy Topics, which we expect will have different kinds of benefits. Over the past four years, our team partnered with 29 Baltimore City Public Schools. We worked with each school for one year to deliver the programs. We trained school personnel in how to continue offering the programs in the future if they wish. This is a brief update and summary of our work so far. We are starting to analyze data on how the programs impacted students and look forward to sharing outcomes with schools, families, and other audiences.

See our latest report to our partner schools below:

RAP Club infographicpg1

RAP Club infographicpg2

Study funders: Institute of Education Sciences (R305A160082; PI: Mendelson); Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (1R01HD090022; PI: Mendelson)