(Foto: Cortesía/Carolina Villamil Grest)

In a new collaboration with Nueva Esperanza, the Philadelphia Puerto Rican Youth (Phila PR Youth) Project is a small research study that I will lead in partnership with Dr. Jamile Tellez Lieberman from Esperanza. The study wants to learn about the experiences of Latino/Hispanic youth and families living in North Philadelphia, including Hunting Park, to better understand health disparities.

I am an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at the Temple University College of Public Health. As a Cuban American woman born and raised in Miami, Florida by Cuban parents and grandparents, I was motivated to become a social work researcher, to partner with Latino/Hispanic organizations and to use my research skills to improve our community’s health and well-being.

Generally, the health of the Latino/Hispanic people is worse than the majority of White Americans. We were reminded of this trend during the COVID-19 pandemic, which deeply impacted Latinos and other minority groups, who suffered from more COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations compared to Whites and were less likely to be vaccinated. This is an example of a health disparity. A “health disparity” means that your health can be better or worse based on where you’re from, who you are, where you live, work and play. In most cases, these differences in health are unfair, unjust and can be avoided (US DHHS, 2022).

In addition to adults, Latino/Hispanic youth living in Pennsylvania (PA) experience health disparities. According to the 2020 annual survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2019 and 2020, there was an increase (from 20.8 to 25.1%) in the number of Latino/Hispanic youth living in PA who reported their mental health during the last two weeks was “not good.” Their reported “very good” general health decreased among Latino/Hispanic high school students from 30.4 to 25.5% between 2020 and 2021. In 2019 before COVID-19, the largest group of students in Philadelphia reporting feeling sad or hopeless almost every day in the past year were the Latino/Hispanic youth (43.4%), compared to White (42.7%), Black (38.7%), and Asian (35.1%) students (CDC, 2020). There have been many reports that the mental and emotional health of youth has become worse since the pandemic began. 

The Phila PR youth project is a study that will collect life stories of Latino/Hispanic youth living in Philadelphia and try to understand how the experiences in their lives have impacted their health, including what health disparities they might have encountered. In the first stage of the study, I am inviting participants between the ages of 18 and 29 who identify as being Puerto Rican, to complete a short form and determine if they are eligible to participate. People who are eligible and interested in participating in the study will complete a one-on-one interview with me about their culture, family, community, and health behaviors.

In exchange for their time, participants will receive $40 cash. In the next stage of the study, I will partner with Esperanza to analyze the interviews. We hope to learn a lot from the interviews, including about health disparities. My plan is to continue to partner with Esperanza to find ways to ensure the needs of not just Puerto Ricans, but Latino/Hispanic youth and their families from all backgrounds, are met to improve their health now and in the future. If you are interested in participating in the study, please contact me and the study team at philapryouth@gmail.com with any questions or scan the QR code to see if you are eligible to participate.


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