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Health Access Project aims to bridge cultural gap and provide better health care

BURLINGTON NeighborKeepers Inc., along with the University of Vermont College of Medicine, College of Nursing and College of Social work, announced recently that it will launch an effort to improve the health education of low income Vermonters, including new Americans from recently resettled immigrant and refugee communities. The program is referred to as the Health Access Project (HAP). The group is currently running a series of sixteen sessions to focusing on nutrition, chronic illness management, stress, child development, womens and mens health, and other issues identified by the community. The most recent session was held on Thursday, December 6, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the First Baptist Church in Burlington. Dinner, childcare, and transportation was provided by Circle of Support. This newly developed community based interdisciplinary approach was designed to improve the health education of low income Vermonters, said Lajiri Van Ness-Otunnu, Americorps VISTA Community Volunteer Programs Development Specialist for NeighborKeepers. The third session of the sixteen promoted a health educational strategy based on relationship. NeighborKeepers Inc. is an organization that was started to help transition low income families out of poverty through relationship building. HAP is a genuine response to community needs, a true dialogue and reciprocity between the community and health professionals, said Hal Colston, Founder and Executive Director of NeighborKeepers Inc. According to HAP, marginalized and vulnerable communities bear a disproportionate burden of disease and negative health outcomes. These families find it very difficult to navigate the health care system. HAP aims to bring the community together with health professionals in a comfortable environment. HAP states that through the use of a health fair format, these sessions will provide an opportunity for community members to gather health information and also to educate future health practitioners about issues relevant to their health. It is hoped that these sessions will also provide opportunities for community members and future health practitioners to begin to build relationships that can grow beyond the immediate project interactions. According to Ness-Otunnu, the inspiration for HAP came a couple of years ago when she realized the importance of bridging the cultural gap between health care providers and recipients of care.

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