Wexler and UMass interns on team for Northwest Artic wellness project

September 26, 2013

Lisa Wexler, Associate Professor of Community Health Education, and her tribal partners in Northwest Alaska, Maniilaq Association, recently received a $100,000 award from the Indian Health Service's Methamphetamine and Suicide Prevention Initiative. Wexler will be the evaluator on the Wellness Program’s regional Northwest Arctic Institute (NWAI), which will launch a program to train community-based mentors who will initiate and sustain efforts to promote community wellness in twelve rural villages in Northwest Alaska.

“We will be selecting 18 mentors from within the 12 Northwest Arctic villages that Maniilaq Association serves to attend the NWAI this coming winter and spring. These mentors will receive training at an intensive week-long retreat with Evon Peter, a tribal leader,” explains Wexler. “The training is focused on leadership development with the aim of growing local peoples’ capacity to initiate and institute wellness activities in their home communities,” she adds.

After going through the training, two student interns from UMass Amherst will support the mentors in planning and carrying out their prevention and health promotion activities during summer 2014. The goals of the mentors’ efforts are to increase community readiness to engage in health promotion and grow the number of wellness activities in the villages.

“These activities reflect a primary prevention approach that can reduce suicide risk factors and promote community wellness,” notes Wexler. The annual activities will conclude with a presentation by the mentors at Alaska’s largest gathering of Native peoples, the Alaska Federation of Natives Annual Convention in the fall of 2014.

“I am thrilled we got the grant. First, it represents a grassroots strategy that is driven by local community members' strengths and perspectives and targets community-level variables,” says Wexler.  

“Secondly, the grant provides opportunities for our public health students to work on complex public health problems using democratizing, de-stigmatizing and community organizing principles. This is exciting and important work, and can expand our students’ capacity to be positive change agents,” she adds.