Steans Center > About > News > Community Health Assets Key to Innovative Community-based Health Research Project

Community Health Assets Key to Innovative Community-based Health Research Project

For the last two years, Hernández-Arias has been a co-principal investigator of the Community Health Assets and Needs Assessment (CHANA), a community-based participatory research project designed to assess health resources and needs among the residents of four communities on Chicago’s South Side—Armour Square, Archer Heights, Bridgeport and Gage Park. Armour Square is a predominantly Chinese-American community; Archer Heights and Gage Park all have significant Latino immigrant populations, and Bridgeport is a heterogeneous neighborhood. The project focuses on health issues facing low-income immigrant communities of color. What HernándezArias and his colleagues have documented are diverse neighborhoods, a variety of health-related concerns and communities that have a wide range of resources and assets. The CHANA project emphasizes the wide—and often-neglected—range of community assets in low-income neighborhoods, from a health clinic used by residents and a fresh produce market to a program for youth at a local park district facility. In almost all cases, however, when the outside world tries to understand the health status of immigrants living in such neighborhoods, assets are rarely considered. Identifying assets is important to begin addressing health needs with the resources that are immediately available. Hernández-Arias' main research interest is on immigration and health; he was struck by the lack of available information on this subject.

“Some government sources claim that 20 percent of the workforce is composed of immigrants – and yet there is no data that documents the health conditions of immigrants,” he states, “How is that possible?” The lack of community-based data specifically about immigrants makes the CHANA project useful to community-based organizations that are eager to use the information. Esther Wong, Executive Director of the Chinese American Service League, a partner in CHANA, added that “as a Chinese social service agency, we are always interested in research, because there’s not that much research on our communities. The survey conducted by this project was more environmental, social and community-oriented in nature than what we usually see.​​

Community-based Research Model 

The CHANA project is distinguished by how it involves the community; the project’s communitybased participatory research approach was to ask immigrants how they take care of health concerns. Data collection for four segments of the project was completed by community residents. Throughout the project, DePaul students analyzed data collected by more than 200 community residents; the projects involved collecting data through 32 individual interviews, 24 focus groups, 1,190 residential surveys, and 685 block inventories. The research also features a protocol that kept the cost low, a method that will benefit organizations that may want to replicate the project. “If you are an immigrant, you are paying a toll in so many areas,” Hernández-Arias said, “The beauty of community-based participatory research is that it gives people an outlet through which they can articulate what they know.” 


The research shows how health-related issues can look very di4erent between two neighborhoods, even if they are located adjacent to one another, or even within a neighborhood. For instance, in analyzing the block inventories, students realized that the north part of Armour Square contains a variety of stores with fresh produce, while in a lowincome neighborhood in the south part of the neighborhood it was very di3cult to find any fresh produce at all. The project also found that Armour Square has sixteen social service organizations, while Archer Heights has only two. There are many ways that community organizations can use the data collected in the four components of the CHANA project. For example, the research revealed that thousands of eligible families reported not knowing about the State of Illinois’ All Kids program—a program that guarantees insurance for all children in the state. That kind of information can be shared with community residents to inform them about available means of having access to medical service resources, at least for children and adolescents. Partners The CHANA Project brought together a range of key research partners who formed the project’s Community Advisory Council, which includes representatives from Alivio Medical Center, the Chicago Department of Public Health and four community-based organizations—the Chinese American Service League, Latino Organization of the Southeast, the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, and San Miguel Schools, and DePaul University. The primary financial sponsor of the project is Alivio Medical Center, a bilingual, bicultural nonprofit health center that serves more than 20,000 people a year and draws patients from all four surveyed communities. Carmen Velasquez, Founder and Executive Director of Alivio Medical Center, was a coprincipal investigator for the project with Hernández-Arias. “We wanted to document what people are feeling about health care and what problems they have in accessing the system,” said Velasquez. “The uniqueness here is in the tools developed by the project. They are going to be available to any community entity.” Velasquez praises Hernández-Arias for “recognizing the opportunity to work with our health center, and allowing for his students to be actively engaged in the process.” She said the CHANA project has “a bottoms-up approach. It has soul and reflects the real feelings of the people.” Data provided by participants in the project create a broader vision of public health in their neighborhoods. “This research provides the kind of information that is invaluable to the health department,” says Joseph Harrington, Assistant Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, which endorsed the project. “We have significant information about birth and death. The question is: What happens in between? This project can provide research-based, analytical data about the health of communities and individuals. That can help us make plans and projections.” Harrington added that the CHANA project can greatly benefit communities. “Communities have the power to frame public policy,” he claimed, “To the extent that community members have information about real concerns from this project, they can articulate those concerns to elected o3cials.” DePaul Student Involvement Essential Over the years, Hernández-Arias designed four distinct courses related to the project of which he taught a total of nine sections. The classes are research design and research methods as well as on quantitative and qualitative health data analysis. Thus far, 118 DePaul students have participated in the project as researchers providing a service to communities.

Britt Skaathun, who earned her degree in Sociology at DePaul, was a student research assistant on health-related issues in the community. Her work on a community assessment helped set the stage for the CHANA project. “This work gives you a di4erent perspective as a student,” she noted. “When you realize that what you are doing can be used by community members, it’s more inspiring. Engagement with the community motivates you to do a good job. You want to make sure the data is as specific as possible.” The work with Professor Hernández-Arias, she adds, “helped me focus my interest for school.” Skaathun is currently pursuing a Masters degree in epidemiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health.​Meanwhile, Mike Bielaczyc, a senior sociology major with a health and health services concentration, took a course on quantitative data analysis taught by Hernández-Arias. After completing the class, he served as a volunteer for the project. Bielaczyc, who grew up in an immigrant community, said “our culture owes so much to these communities, but pays so little attention to them. Through this project, we have the opportunity to go deeper into what we’ve learned about these communities—and see why certain groups describe their health status in such different ways.​​

We know that health is a4ected by many physical factors, but we saw with the CHANA project that what is around you can have an equally or more important e4ect.” He noted, for example, how there are major di4erences between the number of health clinics and doctors’ o3ces in one community compared to another. DePaul student Jay Borchert feels there is something significant at stake with this project. “We are learning through our research that this kind of information can a4ect people’s lives,” informed Borchert, who is pursuing a sociology degree at DePaul, “For me, this experience provides the opportunity to apply social thinking to a real problem that is occurring now. It has definitely a4ected my future goals, and helped me to focus. Now I have some real experience interacting with communities.” DePaul student Theresa Lasenby, who is pursuing a master’s degree in social work, had a chance to observe and collect data on the South Armour Square neighborhood — and witness firsthand the dearth of medical o3ces and fresh healthy food options in the community. “I hope that elected o3cials and others in the community can see the overall picture of what’s happening here – even down to the details of how meat looks in a case and what snacks are available to people,” she said. “You can’t get any more raw or real than the data collected for this project.”​​