Arnell Hinkle, MA, RD, MPH, CHES

AH photoArnell Hinkle’s experiences as a restaurant chef and organic farmer led her to pursue a degree in nutrition.  She quickly realized that environmental changes were needed to facilitate individual-level behavior change, and decided to focus on public health nutrition.  She worked on anti-hunger and chronic disease initiatives for several years before founding Communities Adolescents Nutrition and Fitness (CANFIT).  The non-profit, which celebrates its 20 anniversary this year, is dedicated to increasing healthy eating and physical activity opportunities for low-income youth of color and the communities they’re in, with a focus on afterschool and community-based settings.  Her deep commitment to collaborating with communities to improve nutrition and physical activity make her a public health hero.

Career in Profile

  • 1990-1991 – Senior Health Education Specialist, Contra Costa Health Services Department, Martinez, California
  • 1991 – 1993 – Project Coordinator, Contra Costa Health Services Department, Martinez, California
  • 1993 – 1995 – Program Director, CANFIT
  • 1995 – 1998 – Director, CANFIT
  • 1999 – Present – Executive Director, CANFIT
  • 2003 – Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leader Award
  • 2007 – Mary C. Eagan Award, Public Health Nutrition, American Public Health Association
  • 2008 – Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellowship
  • 2010 – Ian Axford (New Zealand) Public Policy Fellowship

What inspires you and the work that you do?

There’s a real dichotomy between what we’re fed and what’s possible.  Many people have very little choice available to them.  Economics and other social determinants limit their choices to “which fast food should I eat?” instead of “the breadth of wonderful foods available.”  We try to make sure that people have both the skill and education they need to make healthy choices, and also the availability of healthy choices and safe places to be active.

On a personal level, my life changed when I participated in an afterschool program in St. Louis that brought kids from all over the city to participate in afterschool and summer activities.  I was surrounded by so many people with different ways of being – I remember one of my friends eating a cucumber sandwich.  I had never seen anything like it!  They shared it and it was good, and I thought, “Wow, you don’t have to have bologna on sandwiches?”  It was a radical moment for me.  So I’m aware of the importance of exposing adolescents to other ways of being, and this is one reason our work at CANFIT focuses on afterschool programs.  Especially in communities with challenged school systems, afterschool programs become a place where adolescents can form positive youth-adult interactions, do project-based activities, and just be themselves.  CANFIT makes sure that those are also healthy environments, and uses them as a place to work with young people.

Your career has taken several turns along the way, but is there a particular success or highlight that you are proud of?

We’ve been performing trainings with high school kids around sugar sweetened beverages, and as part of the training we show a video that we co-developed with youth, called PHAT (Promoting Healthy Activities Together).  PHAT uses hip hop culture to talk about healthy eating and fitness.  PHAT showcases youth talking about the importance of eating well and being active, what’s available in their neighborhood, and ends with a dance video.  To create the dance video, we worked with DJs to get clean hip hop beats, some young people came up with the rhymes, and a hip hop choreographer worked with after school programs to develop a dance routine into a dance video.  It’s youth speaking to youth, and 6 years later, young people can still relate to it.  I’m proud of the work and products that we’ve developed over the years because they speak to youth and youth culture, and are still relevant to youth.

Now we use the video in our trainings as a “hook” or conversation starter.  Youth see the film and get ideas, and then we work with them to develop action plans around decreasing sugar sweetened beverages in their communities or for themselves or their families.

Switching gears, what are the challenges you’ve faced or continue to face?

CANFIT also works in the policy arena, and I find that I have to be bilingual, bicultural.  I’m always aware of how to frame things to appeal to which audiences.  So, if I’m with a group of teenagers I might say it one way, and if I’m with a group of funders or policymakers I have to say it another way, and you constantly have to go back and forth between those two vocabularies in order to function in both of those worlds.  I think that grassroots-grounded experience versus academia is always a challenge. People come up with these great ideas that aren’t always necessarily grounded in community and so you constantly have to be the conduit, the reality check. That’s a challenge.  You want to strike that balance, so that research is not just on the community, but for the community, and also works within the community – not just doing research because its convenient to do the research.

The funding is always a challenge.  Because of the way foundation dollars work, you have to shift from project to project, because most places don’t fund general operating costs.  We’re often a training ground for staff; after a couple years with us, they get scooped up by state health department or the county health department.  Because we maintain a network of former colleagues and can bring them in for specific projects, we’ve added a strong “consultation and training” component to our organization. So we try to maintain a lean operating machine and make it work that way.

Is there a persistent public health problem that still concerns you today?

I’m concerned about all of the social determinants of health, like whether people have a livable wage and safe places and education, income.  So much of what we do in public health could be solved if people had higher wages and more education – well, a better quality of education.

In terms of the work that CANFIT deals with, I think we need to take a look at the cost of things – especially the hidden cost of things.  For example, it drives me crazy that the food industry gets tax breaks for donating unhealthy foods to food banks.  If our health values were more aligned with our economic practices, our practices might be in better shape.

Reflective: Looking Back On Volumes 4-6

Every four months we pause from conversations with public health leaders to reflect on lessons learned from their varied careers, and insights into persistent and emerging public health challenges.

We are Public Health has been honored to feature conversations with several groundbreaking, widely respected pioneers in the field.  The last three volumes highlighted Dr. Len Syme, father of social epidemiology, and Dr. Jack Geiger, a pioneer of the community health center movement in the US.  As Dr. Geiger acknowledged in his interview, “we all stand on the shoulders of others.”  The ripple effect of their unique contributions to our field is evident in the work of other featured practitioners such as Jim Bloyd, Dr. Sandra Witt and Dr. Bob Prentice, who are all working to operationalize Dr. Syme’s and others’ social determinants of health framework in communities and within government institutions.  Similarly, we see Dr. Geiger’s strategy of engaging, organizing and empowering community members to create their own solutions and successfully address public health challenges reflected in Emma Rodgers’ coalition-driven work in the Bronx, Laura Sanders’ advocacy for immigrants’ rights in Southeastern Michigan, Arnell Hinkle’s efforts to create youth-led and culturally appropriate nutrition and physical activity resources, Dr. Joe Zanoni’s work to improve the health and safety of immigrant day laborers, and finally in Dr. Joseph West’s community research on diabetes in Chicago’s North Lawndale network.

Drs. Syme and Geiger’s legacies extend beyond these amazing public health workers who continue to “stand on their shoulders”.  Their impact is also evident in current public health work and policies. These days, it is rare for public health students to graduate from any school of public health without a working knowledge of the social determinants of health. In the field, the determinants are widely considered just as critical to supporting and improving the health of communities and reducing health inequities as the delivery of clinical services. Additionally, community health centers are rapidly becoming the go-to places for many Americans to seek health care and community resources.  In the age of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, these centers play a central role as the medical homes of low-income residents across the nation, and a growing number are finding creative ways to integrate the social determinants into primary care.

When we started this website we hoped that we would be able to feature public health’s well respected and renown pioneers. We are delighted to also see the connections between their groundbreaking work, and the current efforts of a diverse set of public health practitioners.  It is truly inspiring to witness the evolution of their audacious visions.

We are so excited about where the next three volumes will take us!  We look forward to reflecting on more trends in these public health histories.

Causandra Gaines, BSW

causandra gainesCausandra Gaines, BSW has worked in Westside Detroit for 27 years.  A social worker by training, Ms. Gaines’ passion for working with young people – spanning from infants to elementary and middle school students to young mothers – clearly comes through when she reflects on her work in the Brightmoor community in Detroit, MI.  Her commitment to community-based participatory research partnerships, and to improving the ability for all community members to live up to their full potential, are evident in her reflections on her thirty-year career.  Ms. Gaines recently retired from a leadership role at the Brightmoor Community Center in Detroit.

Career in Profile:

  • 1974 – 1978: Completed her Associates in Applied Art Social Service Technician Corrections and Bachelor of Science in Human Services at Ferris State University
  • 1982 – 1986 – Counselor, Vista Maria
  • 1986 – 2003 – Group Social Worker, Brightmoor Community Center
  • 2003 – 2005 – Vice President/COO, Brightmoor Community Center
  • 2005 – 2012 – President/CEO, Brightmoor Community Center
  • 2012 – 2013  – Director of Operations, Brighmoor Community Center
  • NOW: Retired

 

What are some of your best career successes or career highlights that you’re really proud of?

I really liked our Zero to Three program, where we worked with mothers and their children aged zero to three.  That’s the point where you can help a young mother who has nothing and give her some of the things that she needs.  It could be a car seat, diapers, or formula.  Or, show her that there is potential out there for her.  That she can get a job, be successful.  Help her to navigate the system so she can get the things that she needs.  Through that program, we have helped people get housing, jobs, and make sure that kids have formula, diapers, and clothes.  It is just a joy to see a person’s face when you are able to give them those things.  That’s what’s important.

One career success was through all of the economic downfalls, and all of the money that the Community Center lost, I was able to keep these doors open.  We survived it.  It was a rough five years, just figuring out how you’re going to keep the place open.  Sometimes I was the only person who was working and I did most of it by myself.

When it comes to public health, what matters to you?  Why?

I think our biggest health challenge in Detroit is exercise.  I think that the best thing that we (the Healthy Environments Partnership Steering Committee, a community-based participatory research project) did is that our walking groups allowed folks to make a change.  We used a participatory process from the planning stage to the implementation stage, and participants really enjoyed the walking groups.  They understood how important it is for people to be healthy.  Exercising and eating the right food does prolong your life.  When you get to be 60, 70 and 80, you want to be an independent person able to take care of yourself.  The way to get there is to take care of your body, especially as we get seasoned.  There are a lot of groups, like health plans and health centers, who are willing to help.   I still believe that we have a long way to go.

What do you think it will take to address these public health challenges?

It’s good to talk about good nutrition and healthy things, but we have to have to access things.  In the summer, we have the farmer’s market.  Now, it’s getting cold.  Fresh vegetables are gone.  How can we continue to bring fresh fruits and vegetables into the community?  How can we leverage the big retailers to want to come and do that?  Also, we need to educate the people in the community.  When you get these wonderful things, you have to educate the community.  Sometimes it’s about educating one person at a time or working with one group at a time.  Once you teach that group, they can spread it on to the next folks.

My main focus over the last 8 years has been to make sure that the Brightmoor Community Center succeeds.  Right now, we’re on our 88th year.  My goal is that it succeeds to be 100, plus.  The community built the Brightmoor Community Center.  This is a focal point for the community.  We want to be a place where we are a one-stop shop, where you can access everything.  We want to take care of your health needs, nutrition needs, and offer a space where you can exercise.  We have a daycare.  We want to make sure that you have a place where your kids can go while you’re at work.  If you have an addiction, you can come get help with that.  If you have spiritual needs, you can come here to church.  We just want to make sure that we can help you to access anything you need.  We may not have a program, but we want you to know where you can go to address your health and other needs.  We’re like a community center that has all of these legs that go in one direction.  The legacy that I want to leave is to make sure that the community center is here, serving the community, and doing what it needs to do for 100, plus years.