Addressing Health Disparities in Springfield, MA – CBO Profile

By Ruby Maddox

Health disparities in urban minority communities are a significant issue among many community health  organizations. According to a Health Policy Brief on Health

“America’s racial and ethnic minorities have worse health than whites do, and they often receive a lesser standard of health care. People who have limited education or income or who live in poor neighborhoods have worse health and health care….”

It’s a known fact that urban centers with high rates of poverty contain higher rates of health disparities these health risks can often contribute to increased poverty since those who develop chronic illnesses are often unable to work or require costly medical care they or their families are unable to afford.  The National Urban League published a report last December on The State of Urban Health, citing that, “In 2009, health disparities cost the U.S. economy $82.2 billion in direct health care spending and lost productivity.” Health disparities in urban communities can effect everything from socioeconomic mobility to education.

Community Health organizations like the Mason Square HealthTask Force (MSHTF) are working to combat these disparities and change health outcomes for residents within the Mason Square Neighborhood and the City of Springfield, MA. The MSHTF is a community coalition working to eliminate racial health disparities in Mason Square through information sharing, capacity building & policy change, with a focus on nutrition and healthy food access, diabetes & chronic heart disease. This week for my post interviewed Wanda Givens, Executive Director of the Mason Square Health Task Force.

The Mason Square Health Task Force staff, l to r, Arlene Brown-Jenkins, administrative assistant, Wanda L. Givens, director, and Beatrice Dewberry, marketing, communications and outreach coordinator.
The Mason Square Health Task Force staff, l to r, Arlene Brown-Jenkins, administrative assistant, Wanda L. Givens, director, and Beatrice Dewberry, marketing, communications and outreach coordinator.
What does the MSHTF  do?
“The Task Force is a community coalition that aims to address health disparities in the Mason Square community. Over the past few years we have funded two initiatives that provide programming for residents who are at risk or suffering from diabetes or chronic heart disease. We also host a variety of health related activities for the community including an annual health fair,  a health related film series, a drink water campaign and a host of other events.”

MSHTF runs several programs

  • The Healthy Community Collaborative, an initiative aimed at reducing the impact of diabetes and premature cardiovascular disease among the residents of the Mason Square community (Springfield, MA) through high-level collaboration among multiple community partners.
  • The Mason Square Food Justice Initiative aims to create an equitable food system that would allow access to affordable, quality food for all in Mason Square. The mission of this initiative is to undo lack of access to nutritious foods in Mason Square, create community unity & valuing across race/ethnicity, and identify and challenge unjust and historically racist practices, programs, systems and public policies that limit access to healthy food options in order to improve health of the community.
  • Fit Body & Soul is a diabetes and chronic disease prevention program funded by the MSHTF. The long-term goal of the Fit Body & Soul Program is to reduce obesity & type 2 diabetes (T2D). The immediate goal of our program is to reduce diabetes risk factors by promoting the adoption of healthy lifestyles. The program engaged community members through their facebook page.  The program is offered in faith settings in partnership with faith leaders and officials along with guidance from experts from both Diabetes prevention Programs.

How did you get into this kind of work?
“I have worked for the community in one capacity or another for at least the last 15 years. I think all of my positions have actually been about public health in some form or fashion, but it wasn’t until I began working for the Dunbar that I actually considered myself to be a public health professional.”

What challenges do you feel small community-based health organizations face that are unique to their structure,leadership, or missions? (Compared to National or large organizations)
“The biggest challenge of course is the lack of bodies. When you are a small organization you have a small staff. The Task Force has 2 full time staff members. It is difficult to do the quantity of work we’d like to do. It isn’t always easy to get recognized as a small organization which can impact our ability to get funding.”

What’s your organization’s vision for your community?
“Our vision for the community is good health. We want to see our residents have equitable access to health care, food and all other resources. We want our residents to enjoy a safe, vibrant community.”

What Advice would you give to other CBOs?
“My advice to other CBOs is to build capacity. Build it in your organizations, in the communities you work in and in the residents you serve. Never leave anyone the same as when you met them. Leave them better.”


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