Penn Medicine, Philadelphia: Penn Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Launch Multi-Million Dollar Joint Initiative to Improve Health and Wellbeing in West and Southwest Philadelphia Neighborhoods with Greenspaces, Career Training, and Community Environmental Grants

The Penn Urban Health Lab, along with 13 community and faith-based organizations, will launch Deeply Rooted, a community-driven program to promote health equity and environmental justice in Black and brown neighborhoods in West and Southwest Philadelphia. Named Deeply Rooted to convey the depth, strength, and scope of the work, this initiative will increase greenspace through greening of over 1,000 vacant lots, planting more than 1,000 trees and building miniparks designed by the community. In addition, it will provide community residents and organizations with mini-grants to promote environmental justice initiatives and support nature-based career development. Penn Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s (CHOP) Healthier Together Initiativeare the initial funders for Deeply Rooted, while the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society serves as the lead strategic greenspace implementation partner.

The collaborative aims to reverse the effects of structural racism on neighborhood environments which have led to increased violent crime, worsened public health, and deepened health inequities in Black and brown Philadelphia neighborhoods. The first year of the program will focus on four local communities – Cobbs Creek, Haddington, Kingsessing, and Mill Creek – which were selected based on data related to the rates of gun violence, health outcomes, the opportunity to increase tree canopy, and the prevalence of vacant land.

“Every time we step out of our homes to go to work or school, the environment around us is having an impact on our health,” said Eugenia South, MD, MSHP, an assistant professor of Emergency Medicine and faculty director of the Urban Health Lab. “Investment in Black communities, that is directed by community leaders, to create healthy and safe neighborhoods environments is essential to reversing longstanding health inequities.”

A group of people holding paint trays and paint brushes while painting fences and garden beds
The collaborative draws upon South’s research on the impact of vacant lots, blighted houses, and lack of trees and other greenspaces on rates of violence and poor health outcomes in predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods. Her work illustrates the profound toll of violence on communities, where residents experience increased rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and heart disease compared to their White counterparts. Recently, South and Penn colleagues embarked on a wide-ranging research effort, spanning 60 predominantly Black neighborhoods in Philadelphia, to measure interventions addressing both environmental and economic injustices on health and well-being. That project is supported by a nearly $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Deeply Rooted centers on community partnership and empowerment. Community partners are recognized as the experts on the needs of their communities, and they will shape overall strategic direction, drive outreach and make decisions about which interventions are applied within their unique neighborhoods. “Through the Deeply Rooted collaborative, we are better positioned to restore the health, safety, and vitality of our communities. Taking action now is necessary to secure our children’s future,” said Aqul Abdus Sabur of Sister Clara Muhammad Community Development Corporation, the lead community partner in Mill Creek.

“Building authentic community partnerships, exchanging knowledge, and enhancing the capacity and resources of community members are essential for Deeply Rooted’s success and sustainability,” said Nicole Thomas, MBA, CDP, Director of the Urban Health Lab and lifelong West and Southwest Philadelphia resident. “‘Deeply Rooted’ not only refers to how entrenched systemic racism is in these communities and the literal healing power of nature, but it also highlights how intimately the collaborative will operate within these communities. We will literally be deeply rooted within Philadelphia neighborhoods.”

The Deeply Rooted logo with a silhouette of a side profile next to a row of buildings
“Children who grow up with access to green space and trees are more likely to lead healthier lives free of conditions like asthma and obesity, and safe community spaces help residents of all ages build strong neighborhood bonds,” said Madeline Bell, President and Chief Executive Officer of CHOP. “Our most recent Community Health Needs Assessment identified that communities in West and Southwest Philadelphia viewed access to greenspace as a priority health need, and this initiative represents our commitment to health equity and ensuring those needs are met.”

“Up to 80 percent of children’s health and well-being is linked to behavioral, socioeconomic and environmental factors like access to safe and green spaces, exercise and healthy food, which is why CHOP created the Healthier Together Initiative,” said Peter Grollman, Senior Vice President, External Affairs, at CHOP. “The Deeply Rooted partnership represents a powerful way to drive real impact when hospitals and health systems listen to and collaborate with residents of the community to improve health.”

The collaborative will celebrate its launch in the four neighborhoods on Saturday, May 14th, with nature-based activities for youth and adults, featuring both community and academic partners, as well as local elected officials. This spring, Deeply Rooted will be planting up to 60 trees and greening over 206 thousand square feet of vacant and blighted space.

“Penn Medicine is dedicated to supporting healthier communities – that means not only caring for patients once they come through our doors but also nurturing neighborhoods that keep them safe and help them thrive in all aspects of their lives,” said Kevin B. Mahoney, CEO of the University of Pennsylvania Health System. “Embracing bold investments and innovative strategies is essential to healing the local community and safeguarding our city’s future.”

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