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Q&A with Gina Weisblat and Anita Iveljic of the Citizenship Health Institute

Jun 3, 2019

Gina Weisblat is the founder of the Citizenship Health Institute (CHI) and director of the University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center's Office of Community Impact, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (CEDI). Anita Iveljic is the director of program development and strategic initiatives at CHI. Weisblat and Iveljic spoke with Interact for Health about engaging youth in grassroots community solutions to public health issues like opioid misuse.

Interact for Health: Could you explain more about University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center's CEDI, and CHI?

Gina Weisblat: University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center focuses on addressing the social determinants of health for the most vulnerable populations. University Hospitals' CEDI is responsible for supporting, promoting, and implementing programs to maintain an inclusive, equitable, and diverse environment for patients. CEDI aims to engage communities in healthier and more equitable opportunities to be successful and to find ways to be responsible and accountable, while also providing communities with the resources they need to get there. CHI, which has become a part of University Hospitals, shares these goals. CHI includes several programs that seek to empower youth and other individuals to identify issues within their communities and take action to address those challenges.   

Interact for Health: Could you tell me a brief story that illustrates the effect of your work in the local community?

Anita Iveljic: Many of the students we work with throughout the state recognized the state's opioid misuse problem. But at one high school in southeast Ohio the students began researching how opioid misuse was affecting local foster kids. The students discovered that a number of children are placed throughout the state because not enough people are adopting locally. To address the issue, the high school students developed a project to support more local families and show there is support for local adults who decide to adopt a child.

Interact for Health: What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Iveljic: I am most proud of the individual growth of the students and communities, and of the support from communities and partnerships. The growth of our students is a result of communities supporting children and protecting them in order to allow them to thrive.

Interact for Health: What lessons have you learned through your work?

Weisblat: One of the most important things I've learned is to listen to people in these communities and allow them to define what they think is a healthy community and then go from there. When working on the opioid crisis, we spend a lot of time observing and listening and trying to hear what is happening. If I hear what is happening, I can help draw out a solution from the people within that community.

Iveljic: I learned it takes more than one person to address and issue. It takes community. You're setting yourself up for failure if you don't look at what assets everybody brings to the table. I would say we don't work to make the communities better, but rather the community works to make themselves better.

Interact for Health: What about your work excites you most?

Iveljic: I feel fortunate to work in a space that allows me to be innovative. It allows me to work on my ideas and solutions and develop programs designed to address the greater good.

Weisblat: What I like best is having the space to make a difference in the community. We as a team and a community have helped communities operationalize ideas and understand their power.

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