South End Breast Cancer Activist Awarded Grant to Form “Awareness Network”

South Seattle – An Eritrean man in his mid-50s picks up a pamphlet on colorectal cancer screening at his local community center. He leafs through it for 15 seconds, then shrugs and tucks it back into the slot with all the others. Is he not interested in his health? Too pressed for time? Or is the real problem the pamphlet doesn’t seem to apply to him, since neither the pictures — nor the language — are relatable.

A trio of community organizations, including South Seattle based non-profit Cierra Sisters, will be tackling public health questions just like this thanks to three small grants from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Health Disparities Research Center, or HDRC.

The grants, co-funded by the National Institutes of Health and the HDRC, were awarded to three of six Seattle-area community-health organizations that participated in a recent grant-writing workshop sponsored by Fred Hutch.

“We’re really interested in fostering community members’ ability to apply for grants and get funding to do research-based activities,” said Dr. Beti Thompson, a Fred Hutch public health researcher and head of the HDRC.

Toward that end, the HDRC for the past two years has sponsored a two-day workshop that trains community advocates in both the scientific research process — developing hypotheses, obtaining funding, using evidence-based research — and the grant-writing process itself, with hands-on help from designated mentors.

The HDRC then submits the completed grant proposals to an external review committee. Late last month, the committee announced this year’s winners who, in addition to the funding, will receive mentorship and technical support from Hutch faculty and staff.

“What we’re really doing is empowering them to go on, not only for our grant proposals, but go on for other grant proposals,” said Thompson, pointing to a past participant who went on to receive a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute grant.

This year’s grantees were highlighted by breast cancer activist Bridgette Hempstead. Her organization, Cierra Sisters, serves as a support group for South End area breast cancer survivors. Other grant recipients included health educator Heather Stevens of the Sea Mar Community Health Centers, which provides quality, comprehensive health, human and housing services to Latino and other communities, and Winona Hollins Hauge, C. Maxine Jenkins and Tsitsi Smith, members of the Mount Zion Baptist Church’s Health and Counseling Ministry and Breast Cancer Support Group. Mount Zion is home to the largest African-American congregation in Washington state.


Training ambassadors to do outreach in the African-American community

Hempstead, who is a breast cancer survivor, will work with University of Washington School of Nursing mentor Ashley Scherman and Fred Hutch public health mentor Dr. Kerryn Reding to create a peer-to-peer training program designed to help an increasingly underserved community: African-American women.

“We’re going to train 10 women from Cierra Sisters to go out and speak to groups, giving them evidence-based information on breast cancer screening and patient resources,” said Hempstead, who launched a one-day health and wellness fair with a HDRC grant last year. “We’ll create a manual and guidelines and a toolkit for them so they’ll be able to provide information and resources.”

Those 10 women will then go on to train five more women each, creating a network of what Thompson refers to as “ambassadors.”

“The whole idea is to build this infrastructure in the community, ambassadors who can talk to women about the reality of having mammograms,” Thompson said.

Once the ambassadors are trained, they’ll go out to local venues within the community, like beauty shops and small churches, Hempstead said.

“These women will be talking to community members who look like them,” she said. “It’s very powerful. We believe Cierra Sisters can help bridge the gap and bring information, resources and tools to make a lifesaving difference to the members of our community.”


Leveling the playing field

Thompson, who’s been doing public health research at Fred Hutch for more than 30 years, said the partnerships created by the Health Disparities Research Center’s grant-writing workshops aren’t just beneficial to members of minority communities.

They’re also an important way to build bridges with members of the research community.

“Our whole goal is to make [the Hutch] more aware of and more participatory in health disparities research,” she said. “We know it’s very important to serve the underserved. They are at higher risk for — if not getting cancer, dying from cancer. Until we level that playing field, we’re not going to get rid of health disparities.”