November 7, 2018
Center News

Tierah West, MPH candidate and Research Assistant at the Center on Society and Health, lectured to VCU students, staff, and faculty as part of the Division of Epidemiology’s seminar series on Tuesday, October 30. Her lecture, titled “How to optimize volunteer work to help disadvantaged communities: Community conversations in Richmond, Virginia’s East End neighborhood,” focused on the Center and Engaging Richmond’s research on volunteerism in disadvantaged communities.

Funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the Volunteerism in the East End project highlights the integral role that volunteers serve in low-income communities. Through this project, the researchers seeks to explore the motivations of volunteers as well as the barriers and benefits that volunteers may come across working in disadvantaged communities. To capture the motivators, facilitators, barriers, rewards, and benefits to volunteering, Center staff and Engaging Richmond team members held community conversations and focus groups, performed one-on-one interviews, and administered surveys to volunteers working in the East End of Richmond. Their data suggest that volunteerism in disadvantaged communities can ultimately impact community outcomes such as health, economics, education, sense of community, and overall success.

In her presentation, West underscored the importance of both formal volunteers, who are often associated with a community-based organization, and informal volunteers, whose neighborly efforts are often not captured by traditional definitions of volunteering. While she noted several key findings of the study, West emphasized that this research “makes the case for people to study informal volunteering,” arguing that most current research measures formal volunteering alone and excludes the informal volunteer efforts that play an integral role in disadvantaged communities. “We need to expand the definition of what volunteering is,” urged West, as she pointed to the inaccuracies of the current paradigm.

West is a second year Master’s student anticipating graduation in May of 2019. She first became interested in public health through a high school internship at VCU under the mentorship of Dr. Resa Jones (who has since joined Temple University’s College of Public Health as chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics). West has been working in public health ever since, staying involved in research projects through college and into her post-graduate education. She joined the Center team this year as a project coordinator for the Volunteerism in the East End study.

West will be giving this presentation again at APHA’s Annual Meeting on November 12th in session 243.0: Advocating for change: Strategies to build capacity in diverse, low income communities in room Indigo 204B – Hilton. Follow @VCUSocHealth on Twitter to learn about other Center research presented at this year’s APHA Annual Meeting.