Michigan Public Health and Focus: HOPE receive grant to support workforce development programs for Black youth

Headshot of Enrique Neblett

Enrique Neblett to lead project

Enrique Neblett, professor of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, has been awarded an Institutional Challenge Grant co-funded by the William T. Grant Foundation, Spencer Foundation, and Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The grant encourages university-based research institutes, schools, and centers to grow existing research-practice partnerships with public agencies or nonprofit organizations in order to reduce inequality in youth outcomes.

The $650,000 grant supports a partnership between the University of Michigan and Focus: HOPE, a Detroit-based civil rights and human services organization. While workforce development programs can be a viable option to address employment needs for youth during the transition to adulthood, current evidence suggests the benefit of these programs is stronger for White than Black participants. The project aims to understand and address how Black youth’s stress burden and mental health affects participation in and the outcomes of workforce development programs through community-based participatory research (CBPR).

“The partnership between Michigan Public Health and Focus: HOPE will have a positive ripple effect on the economic and mental health fortitude of Detroit youth and create institutional change that increases the respect for and value of research practice partnerships,” said Neblett.

Institutional Challenge Grantees take steps to enhance an institutional infrastructure for supporting and rewarding community-engaged research and strengthen the capacity of partner agencies to use research in their practice. To support the institutional change portion of the grant, the university and its partners will:

  • Provide seed money for the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center to support early career faculty engaging in youth-focused partnership work
  • Offer services including consultation and professional development workshops on building research practice partnerships and youth-focused CBPR for faculty interested in strengthening their public engagement research skills
  • Collaborate with the Faculty Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs to convene a workgroup dedicated to addressing institutional barriers and developing institutional strategies to sustain community-engaged research
  • Convene a conference at the university to feature the work of research practice partnerships. 

On the practice side, the grant will advance Focus: HOPE’s access to, interpretation of, and use of research through infrastructure support and research and capacity building training for staff. Neblett says Focus: HOPE will strengthen Michigan Public Health’s capacity to partner effectively and equitably with non-profit organizations.

“In addition to addressing youth inequality, our goal is to create change that replaces practices and policies that adversely impact research-practice partnerships with structural investments to support collaborative, equitable, and mutually beneficial community-engaged research,” he said. “We’re excited about the sustained impact that our partnership will have on not only institutional change but also community change.”

“An inquiry into the benefits of promoting mental wellness by reducing cognitive load and unnecessary hassles in workforce programs is critical to the futures of young people,” said Jasahn. M. Larsosa, founding director of Advocacy, Equity, & Community Empowerment for Focus: HOPE and co-principal investigator of the project. “In an era of changing work preferences, the pandemic forced organizations and employers to radically relax requirements and conditions. This research-practice partnership will give us the data needed for continuing these improvements.”

In addition to Neblett, Barbara Israel and Chris Coombe, also of Michigan Public Health’s Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, the Center for Academic Innovation, and the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center will collaborate on the project. 

Learn more about the Institutional Challenge Grants and this year’s grantees.