A concerted community effort is the best way to boost health expectations across a population.
That’s the operational mantra for the Us Group, a University of North Florida-driven nonprofit group that promotes education on women’s health issues in the Northeast Florida region.
Dr. Pam Chally, the dean of UNF’s Brooks College of Health and de-facto leader for the group, said the idea for the Us Group was born about 10 years ago with a vision — there was a regional need for a women’s health organization committed to education and research. Chally said the medical community at large has historically overlooked women and girls’ health initiatives, and the Us Group’s purpose was to remedy that imbalance.
Through the funding of an endowed professorship in women and girls’ health research in the Brooks College of Health and an annual educational event featuring a noted speaker, the Us Group has assisted in educating the community about pressing health concerns for females while also generating a steady stream of fundraising to keep the group running in perpetuity. The group also has an Advisory Council that works to raise awareness and increase the endowment.
Debbie Gottlieb, a member of the Brooks College of Health’s Advisory Council and a former board member of the Us Group, said she was drawn to the initiative because of its multi-year commitment to educating the community about women’s health issues.
“The Us Group was designed to be larger than just a single lecture or event,” she said. “Every year, it brings an issue of particular interest to women and girls’ to the entire community. At the same time, the professorship and grant money provided through the Us Group better informs and educates women with the goal of improving their lives.”
Lecture series topics have ranged in size and scope over the years. The 2011 speaker, Mary O'Connor, a nationally recognized orthopedic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, discussed “Lifelong Bone Health: Girls to Grannies.”
The chair of UNF’s Flagship Nutrition and Dietetics program, Dr. Judith Rodriguez, delivered the 2012 lecture on maintaining healthy lifestyle and nutrition choices to achieve lifelong health and weight management. Rodriguez said her passion for women and girls’ health and her devotion to community awareness were the driving factors behind her lecture.
Last year’s event was the ninth annual women’s health event sponsored by the Us Group. All proceeds from the events support the endowment fund.
In addition to that year’s main sponsor, Aetna Foundation, other past event sponsors have included: Brooks Rehabilitation, Dairy Council of Florida, WJCT Public Broadcasting and HealthSource magazine.
Other money generated through the Us Group has gone to funding grants for UNF faculty focused on community health projects pertaining to female health. Grants range in size from $1,000 to $2,500.
Dr. Michelle Boling, an assistant professor in the Department of Clinical and Applied Movement Sciences, is a two-time recipient of grant money from the Us Group. Her first grant came through in 2009 to help support her study of biomechanical risk factors for anterior knee pain in male and female midshipmen. That initial $2,500 grant helped provide her the seed money needed to generate pilot data for her research. She later submitted that pilot data to the National Institutes of Health and received $150,000 in funding to support her multi-year research project.
“That wouldn’t have been possible without that first Us Group grant,” she said. “That was the push in the right direction that I needed to keep my research moving forward, and it helped lead me toward that NIH grant.”
Boling’s second grant supported her research into gender differences between female and male athletes and anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, injuries. The end goal is to minimize the incidence of injury for female athletes, and Boling said the initial research has been made possible thanks to the grant.
“I’m working with high school students in the community, and I haven't done much with younger populations, so I’m learning as I go,” she said. “This grant has helped me a lot with data collection so far. It’s nice to have an organization here on campus that supports such a wide array of research and provides the vital seed money for faculty who are just starting their research. That’s a unique part of UNF in general — the University is good at providing access to funds and providing links to the community, such as collaboration with health care professionals.”
Other funded projects have included studies that analyze cardiac risk factors in Asian American women, and the impact of an educational program on living skills in conjunction with the Girl Scouts.