Noelle Toumey Reetz
Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development
ATLANTA—The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has awarded Georgia State University a five-year, $3.75 million grant to establish a Prevention Research Center (PRC) that will focus on the health and health disparities of refugees and migrants.
Georgia State is one of 25 institutions included in the 2019-24 PRC network, which works to identify public health issues and develop interventions that can be scaled up or replicated in other communities. The PRC will be based at the university’s Perimeter College campus in Clarkston, a city known as the “Ellis Island of the South” because it is home to thousands of migrants. The center will open on Sept. 30.
“We are deeply honored to join the CDC’s Prevention Research Center network, which has played a vital role in advancing public health in this country for 35 years,” said Michael Eriksen, interim vice president for research and economic development at Georgia State. “Nationally, very little is being done to address issues affecting refugee communities, and having a campus inside Clarkston presents a tremendous opportunity to work with a population that’s in need of support and research.”
Eriksen will direct the center with Rodney Lyn, interim dean of the School of Public Health.
The core research project, conducted in partnership with the community, will address the health and well-being of migrant children by adapting SafeCare, an evidence-based parenting program. Georgia State researchers will use SafeCare to conduct the first systematic effort in the nation to develop culturally and linguistically relevant care and interventions for migrant and refugee children.
Led by Daniel Whitaker, professor of health promotion and behavior and co-director of the National SafeCare Training and Research Center, the researchers will examine whether the program can improve the parent-child relationship, alleviate parenting stress and boost children’s social and emotional health.
“Mental health problems among refugees are very common, and the need for public health interventions focused on refugee mental health continues to grow,” Whitaker said. “Young children in particular are vulnerable and one of the primary protective mechanisms is the presence of safe, stable and nurturing relationship with an adult.”
The PRC will work with community partners to design and implement the core research project and identify and address other health concerns. A community advisory board consisting of major agencies involved in migrant health, community groups and new citizens will help guide the center’s work. Community engagement efforts will be led by Mary Helen O’Connor, assistant professor of English at Perimeter College and director of Georgia State’s Center for Community Engagement. The chair of the advisory board will be Heval Kelli, a Georgia State alumnus and cardiology Fellow at Emory University. Kelli arrived in the U.S. as a refugee in 2001.
“I am thrilled to connect the resources of the university to the Clarkston community in a meaningful, collaborative and responsive way,” O’Connor said. “Having taught in Clarkston for more than a decade, it is exciting to have an initiative that will utilize the expertise of our faculty, students and staff to develop innovative approaches to address persistent disparities in the health of the Clarkston community. We look forward to learning together how to make measurable and sustainable improvements in the health of our friends, neighbors and students.”
“We are proud to be a welcoming city for migrants and refugees,” said Clarkston mayor Ted Terry. “With its focus on community-based participation, the Prevention Research Center will provide opportunities for our residents to collaborate with Georgia State faculty and access much-needed resources and care.”
In addition to the School of Public Health and Perimeter College, the PRC will engage faculty and students from other schools and colleges to employ an interdisciplinary approach to addressing migrant health.
“The School of Public Health is privileged to have the opportunity to deepen its partnership with the Clarkston community in improving the health and well-being of children and families,” Lyn said. “The Prevention Research Center will allow Georgia State researchers to develop new knowledge that may hold promise for serving other similar communities across the country.”