Healthy Savannah Announces Community Health Advocate Training

Staff Report

Tuesday, June 28th, 2022

Healthy Savannah and YMCA of Coastal Georgia are inviting community members, church and health ministry leaders, community service providers and others interested in health equity to consider joining its Community Health Advocate training program. An upcoming online training session is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 7.

The training program is part of an effort funded by a supplemental grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to broaden initiatives of the current Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant, administered by Healthy Savannah and the YMCA of Coastal Georgia. The goal of this initiative is to focus on COVID-19 and Flu vaccine access, awareness, and acceptance, particularly in Savannah’s Black and Hispanic communities.

“Chatham County’s vaccination rates have risen from 8% in February 2021 to our current rate of 64% for one dose and 58% fully vaccinated,” said Elsie Smalls, PhD, operations manager. “While the overall rates are among the highest in the state, those in Chatham County’s priority populations have lagged. Vaccination rates for the Black community are currently at 51.8% and for the Hispanic community are at 42.2%. This is why the work of Community Health Advocates is so important.”

The Community Health Advocate training program has so far enabled 35 Chatham County residents to reach deep into their own communities to hear concerns, perspectives and experiences with COVID-19 and its vaccines. Their experiences are helping provide a more thorough understanding of current perceptions and offer feedback that could help shape public health interaction with people in priority communities.

“All of us had to react quickly when COVID hit,” said Nichele Hoskins, communication manager. “In coming months, we will ask people in the communities we serve what their next health challenges are, whether personal or community-wide, and we can help them respond with more agency, better access, preparation, and greater understanding about their own health.”

This is the third training class that the initiative has offered since the program launched last summer. Each class has followed an in-person listening session to hear about the experiences, perceptions and concerns related to access, awareness, and acceptance of the COVID vaccine. Past listening sessions have helped the COVID team identify people with an interest in sharing their stories and provide accurate and scientifically sound information about COVID and vaccines to people they know. The most recent session, held in June, focused on the next steps in engaging the community as the pandemic transitions to the endemic stage.

“Anyone who can relate to the health inequities that Black and Hispanic Savannahians experience is invited to learn more and potentially sign up for this training session,” said Smalls. “There is no special expertise required but those active in their community or church organizations should be able to put this training to good use and post-high school students considering a career in public health can tap into an opportunity to build their skillsets.”

The next training session for the Community Health Advocate program will get underway on July 7, with attendees meeting virtually in small groups of about 10 each. In addition to a $500 stipend they’ll receive for performing community outreach activities after the training, participants can sharpen leadership skills, learn about advocacy, and add to their resumes.