PhotoVoice Project shares women's journeys to healthier lives

Fast food. Don't feel safe. Eating our emotions. No grocery store.

These are the words that fill the screen during the opening seconds of the seven-minute PhotoVoice Project video, which was initiated by Catherine's Health Center this past June and launched Oct. 11. The video tells the stories of seven women who were given new digital cameras to photograph the barriers in their communities they felt stood in the way of their ability to lead healthy lives.

Catherine’s Health Center is a nonprofit free health clinic serving low-income, un- and under-insured residents of Kent County and the seven women involved in the PhotoVoice Project are patients there. The project was funded by a grant through the W.I.S.E.W.O.M.A.N. (Well -- Integrated Screening and Evaluation for Women Across the Nation) program that Catherine’s participates in, and it’s the first video of its kind to be made in an urban setting.

AmeriCorps VISTA Lifestyle Counselor for the Center, Lyndi Weener-Kuiper, says that the PhotoVoice Project “is a video containing  photographs and quotes compiled by CHC patients that responds to the following question: 'What are the barriers in your life that make healthy living difficult?' The video addresses access barriers such as food deserts and high costs of gym memberships, but also positive existing community resources such as community gardens and healthy food pantries."

The PhotoVoice Project participants were taught to use the cameras by Ted Lausman of Mark’s Photo and Dr. Jack Walen, Medical Director at Catherine’s Health Center, who also has experience using digital cameras as a hobby.

The W.I.S.E.W.O.M.A.N. program focuses on helping woman with nutrition, physical activity, and smoking cessation. To better understand the women’s current barriers to getting healthy, Catherine’s Health Center chose to use the PhotoVoice method, which was developed by Caroline Wang at the University of Michigan.  

According to the video, PhotoVoice Research "allows people to record and reflect on their community's strength and concerns, encourages dialogue and knowledge about important issues through group discussion of photographs, (and) reaches out to policymakers and community change makers."

Some of the issues brought up in the video are the high prices of gym memberships; food deserts created by the few grocery stores in many communities; chemicals and additives in foods; lack of money; poor shoes, roads, and walking areas; physical disabilities; and the feeling of being unsafe in their neighborhoods.

To make the video more inspiring to viewers, the participants also photographed and discussed areas in their communities enabling to them to be well, like community gardens, pickleball courts, mobile food pantries, and even the beauty of our state.

Through the efforts of the project, the seven women have learned about themselves and their communities, and they have bonded together to achieve one goal: healthy lifestyles through making small, permanent changes in the way they live.

The video has had two public showings so far -- its premiere on Sept. 7 at Catherine’s Health Center during an event coordinated with Hunger Action Week 2012, and again on Oct. 10 at the Food and Nutrition Coalition, which is part of the Kent County Essential Needs Task Force. The organization is seeking other places where the video can be shown as well.

If you’d like to help Catherine’s Health Care continue to serve women in the community by guiding them to lead healthier lives, here are some ways you can involved:

-    Visit Catherine’s Health Center online to find out more about them.
-    Watch the PhotoVoice Project video and contact Catherine’s at (616) 336-8800 if you would like to show the video with the photographers present.
-    Volunteer.
-    Donate financially. Catherine’s Health Center is privately funded and any amount donated is appreciated.
-    Sign up for their newsletter.
-    Like them on Facebook.

Source: Lyndi Weener-Kuiper, AmeriCorps VISTA Lifestyle Counselor for Catherine’s Health Center
Writer: Ellie Phillips

Images provided by Catherine’s Health Center.
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