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Meet Stacy Carruth of CHNA 17 (Community Health Network Area 17)

Today we’d like to introduce you to Stacy Carruth.

Stacy, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
As a child, when I was about 11 or 12, my father took a job with the Peace Corps in Niger. My sisters and I (my brother stayed behind to finish high school) moved from Bedford (a white suburb) and started intensive French lessons to prepare for the French school where we were to go. I remember sitting in our new living room, the day we arrived, eating cookies my mother had nabbed from the flight. I think there was a lot of dust from a recent sandstorm. Here we were. I stayed about a year and a half.

Later as a young adult, I joined the Peace Corps and lived in the Comoros Islands off the coast of East Africa. When I came back, I worked for a long time with refugees as a job developer at a resettlement program in Boston. I remember a day where I bought several large Kurdish men to a job interview and my very old car started to break down on the way. We pulled over. They promptly borrowed a tool from a local garage and fixed the problem. Their spirit was palpable. As was their sorrow at all that they missed and longed for from home.

Later, I worked in Korea for a bit and then eventually, I settled in Somerville. Only after studying International Health at the Masters in Public Health Program at Boston University, did I decide that wanted to put down roots.

I started working with a place called the Regional Center for Healthy Communities providing technical assistance to local substance abuse prevention coalitions in the area. I also worked with coalitions called CHNA’s (Community Health Network Areas). There are 27 of these regional coalitions across the state, started in the early 90’s by the Department of Public Health. When they were first formed, people struggled with how to pronounce this… “CHINA?” CHENA? It’s pronounced Cha-na. A few years after this, CHNA 17 was looking for someone to coordinate their efforts, and I was hired as the Planning Director.

I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in my professional life. The work we do aligns with my values and allows me to work directly on things I care most about. Our focus is mental health and racial equity… My personal experiences as a woman who identifies as white living in two African countries, and in Korea, left an impression on me about race that I was never able to articulate.

Beyond this, through changes in my private life, I now have a deep personal connection to the experience of people who identify as black in this country. For me to be able to unite my values with a need to work on race-related issues, with a professional position that enables me to do this is very meaningful.

Has it been a smooth road? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Because it is personal, I have to compartmentalize my feelings frequently. Although I walk through the world as a white woman, hearing about the trauma that racism and living in a white supremacist society has on people is not abstract to me. It can be hard to feel that I need to reign in my personal feelings at times.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the CHNA 17 (Community Health Network Area 17) story. Tell us more about the business.
I am the Planning Director for a regional health coalition called CHNA 17 (Community Health Network Area 17) which covers the communities of Arlington, Belmont, Cambridge, Somerville, Waltham, and Watertown. Our priority areas are mental health and racial equity. We offer grants to local community-based organizations to support work in these areas, and we provide training and capacity building. Our funding comes from Mount Auburn Hospital and McLean Hospital. We’re becoming known for our racial equity work.

Although the CHNA has been around since the early 90s, it’s over the past 3 years that we’ve made a commitment to embed racial equity into everything we do. It’s meant doing things in a new way and “going off script.” It’s been challenging at times – creating new ways of doing things always is. And we have such a long way to go, but I’m proud of the work and opportunities we’ve created so far. It’s been challenging because there is no roadmap for doing this work, and the work is never done.

Plus, the needs are great in our communities, and we’ve had to justify why we are focusing on African Americans specifically. We needed to focus because our funding is limited. We also recognized the traditionally, African Americans have not gotten much in the way of research dollars, and so there was an opportunity for us to play a small role In changing this.

Last year we trained community members and service providers on community engagement and how to do stakeholder interviews on mental health and racism, specifically related to African American residents. We’re now sharing back the findings in each of our communities through community dialogues. Our goal is to ultimately improve access to mental health services, and decrease stigma. As part of these dialogues, we talk about the history of race in this country and how racism is embedded into systems like medicine, the justice system…

Personally, for me, it’s been profound; I’ve heard older African American women talk about Tuskegee, and seen that this is lived history for them, and has deeply affected their feelings about medical care in this country. When residents thank us for talking about the barriers that African American experience in trying to access mental health services, I feel very proud to be part of a coalition putting this work out there.

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
More and more recently I realize that things, connections, opportunities, etc., often come together in ways that are beneficial to our work. I’m learning to stay open to these opportunities and to try to make the critical connections to our work when possible.

Contact Info:

  • Website: chna17.org
  • Phone: 617.331.3627
  • Email: chna17info@gmail.com


Image Credit:

Lucas Mulder

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