Community-based participatory research shows how a community initiative creates networks to improve well-being

Abby S Letcher, Kathy M Perlow
American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2009, 37 (6): S292-9

BACKGROUND: Evidence from more than 30 years of research suggests a profound relationship between social participation and human health and well-being. People who hold meaningful roles in supportive social contexts live longer, get sick less often, suffer less disability, and recover faster from life-threatening events. However, despite ample evidence of benefit, the complex phenomenon of social participation has proved difficult to untangle in creating policies or programs for optimizing health in diverse communities. For vulnerable populations, the answer to the question of what contexts invite meaningful participation and improve well-being remains unclear.

PURPOSE: This study explores how diverse participants engage in a supportive network and proposes a theoretic model of community-building for health promotion.

METHODS: Principles of community-based participatory research were used for qualitative study using in-depth interviews, with a purposeful sample of 28 members of a service exchange program in an urban community.

RESULTS: Four primary themes that were related to participation in the service exchange program were identified: (1) motivation for participation; (2) service exchange, or reciprocity, as vital to the program, with distinct benefits in a heterogeneous group; (3) occurrence of personal and community growth; and (4) health promotion and improved well-being. A model of how participation in the service exchange leads to community-building is presented.

CONCLUSIONS: The model suggests that opportunities for reciprocity are fundamental to healthy community development in heterogeneous groups. Further study of how reciprocity encourages diverse populations to work together to create a landscape of healing may provide a valuable framework for health promotion.

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