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At first glance, Bangladeshi women in the Bronx and African American, Latino and Native American women in rural Eastern North Carolina might appear to have very little in common. But researchers at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and Albert Einstein College of Medicine discovered many common bonds when they met on January 19.

The meeting between the researchers came about after Alison Karasz, an associate professor in family medicine at Albert Einstein began to search for projects connecting jobs and poverty relief with health. She consulted the National Institutes of Health database of projects and found only one: HOPE Accounts in North Carolina.

HOPE (Health, Opportunities, Partnerships, Empowerment) Accounts helps women achieve personal and financial goals through support groups and matching funds. The project developed from HOPE Works, the core research project of HPDP from 2004-2009. HOPE Works is now being disseminated through a new study, Seeds of HOPE. The research team also recently began Threads of HOPE, a microenterprise project that created a small business owned and operated by the women in the study. All the HOPE projects focus on empowering low-income, minority women in Eastern North Carolina in many aspects of their lives so that they can improve their health.

Karasz wrote to Marci Campbell, the principal investigator of the HOPE projects, to find out more about the projects. They decided a face-to-face meeting would best explain lessons learned by the researchers and their long-time community partners. Karasz, her co-investigator Jean Burg and three community partners came to Chapel Hill to meet Campbell, project director Salli Benedict and their community partners for a 2-day meeting. Mahbooba Akhter Kabita, Naznin Nahar and Mahfuja Akter are Bangladeshi immigrants working on the project with Karasz.

The New York visitors traveled to Sampson and Duplin counties to meet the HOPE team’s community partners, beginning with a tour of the Coharie Tribal Center in Clinton, NC. The group also visited Joyous Praise Church in Warsaw for a story and song exchange with the project’s Power Team. The day finished with a Community Action Council meeting in Kenansville.

Karasz said she was excited to see the HOPE projects in action.

“We need the mentorship and guidance and we’re definitely getting it here,” she said. “We know addressing economic and financial independence is key in addressing disempowerment in our project, and this microenterprise approach is a wonderful way to accomplish that.”

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