Roberto Martinez headshotBy Roberto Martinez, Former Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative Project Coordinator

The health status of a population is deeply rooted in socioeconomic conditions such as access to education, jobs (income), recreation, and healthcare services. Thus how a community addresses these conditions significantly impacts the risk of illness in its citizens. Communities living in poverty are far more likely to suffer worse health outcomes than affluent communities, leading to health inequities. A person’s zip code is now recognized as the best predictor of that individual’s health status.

Consequently, the betterment of the health status of a population is contingent upon addressing the social determinants of health. Health inequities are better addressed by engaging community members who can bring their own experience, viewpoints, and community knowledge to find appropriate solutions in the context of that specific community’s culture.

The Lerner Center believes in people.  As a Center, we believe in the possibility that people can, if given the appropriate tools, take responsibility for their health and their environment. Empowerment, broadly defined,  is a social action process that promotes people’s participation, regardless of actual or perceived power, to increase their control over decision-making, resources, and improve quality of life. The Lerner Center believes that empowerment is both an essential process as well as an outcome in improving the health of a community.

As people and communities work together to change their social and political realities, they gain control over their own lives.  The Lerner Center depends on active participation of community members as essential in the process of health improvement, community development, and improvement in the overall quality of life. Community involvement can and should result in long-term, sustainable system changes.

The challenge in health promotion is to develop or improve systems that empower communities at large, and individuals, to take control of their own lives in a meaningful and sustainable manner. Over the past 5 years, the Lerner Center has become part of the efforts to revitalize and improve the quality of life of those living in the Near Westside in the City of Syracuse.

The Lerner Center integrates evidence-based practices and our philosophy about respectful community engagement into the work conducted in the Near Westside. Using this approach to health promotion, we can foster collaboration among agencies, with the shared goal of empowering the community and reducing the environmental and individual barriers that prevent individuals from developing their full potential.

Read more about our community engagement work on the Near Westside.

Read more about the Lerner Center’s work over the past five years: