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Building Health and Well-Being in Clarkston: Georgia State Hosts Refugee and Immigrant Health and Wellness Alliance Community Summit, Nov. 10

By Mary Helen O’Connor and Heval Kelli

Metro Atlanta is home to the second-fastest growing population of foreign-born residents in the United States. According to the Atlanta Regional Commission, immigrants accounted for nearly two-thirds of the city of Atlanta’s population growth in the last decade.

More than 17,000 refugees have arrived in DeKalb County since 2004 where they are helped by dozens of local non-profits, branch offices of national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as our own institution.

Within DeKalb County, the city of Clarkston was identified as a refugee resettlement area by the refugee-serving agencies in the ‘80s, welcoming an average of 1,500 refugees a year and is credited as being the most diverse square mile in America.

The intersecting racial, linguistic, cultural and economic diversity that exists in this and other superdiverse communities pose problems to be addressed by strong partnerships and collaborations among NGOs, community partners, businesses, schools, local government and universities.

Recent census data along with information collected by the United Way place the Clarkston ZIP code among some of the highest need communities in the metro area. More than 50 percent of children in the area live in poverty and 62 percent of families are not financially stable.  Low overall educational attainment, high unemployment, , limited access to healthcare, and other inequities contribute to these persistent barriers to health and overall wellness for many families living in the community.

Emory University received a Kaiser Permanente planning grant last year to establish a coalition to address issues of refugee health and wellness in Clarkston as well as conduct a community assessment to determine needs and establish priorities to be addressed by the coalition. Georgia State University joined this coalition, the Refugee and Immigrant Health and Wellness Alliance, which seeks to improve the health and wellness of Atlanta’s refugee and immigrant communities.

In addition to conducting a needs analysis from community partners, agencies, and leaders, the alliance has planned its first community summit at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 10 at the Clarkston campus of Georgia State’s Perimeter College to bring together entities working in Clarkston to share work, deepen partnerships and empower the community to convey its needs.

The summit is designed to encourage a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas among Clarkston residents, community leaders, service providers and the academic community. Our goal for this event is to further intercultural understanding, build a stronger foundation for collaboration and ultimately improve the health and well-being of the Clarkston community.

The summit will include an afternoon expo to showcase groups, organizations and individuals whose work is relevant to the immigrant and refugee communities. The expo will help in the wider dissemination of information about programs and resources to the broader community of Clarkston.

Organizations and service providers will emphasize programs and events that support immigrants and refugees. Researchers, non-profits and academics are invited to present their work in various disciplines related to migration studies in a walk-through expo.

For more information, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/clarkston-summit-registration-49045984861.

Mary Helen O’Connor is the senior faculty associate for Perimeter College in the Office of International Initiatives at Georgia State University. Heval Kelli, M.D., is a Georgia State alum and cardiology Fellow at Emory University. They established the Mentoring Initiative for New Americans at Georgia State in 2016. It provides mentoring support to refugee and immigrant young adults pursuing admission to college. Together with student leaders, the effort helps to provide academic and social support needed for higher education.

You can learn more about them in an article that appeared in the fall 2018 edition of the Georgia State University Magazine at https://news.gsu.edu/magazine/fall2018/finding-the-american-dream/.



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