UD’s CARE program serves community through research

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At the University of Dallas, the Community Assistance Research (CARE) initiative seeks to develop a learning community among students and faculty.

CARE is a partnership between local nonprofits, their clients and multiple academic institutions. CARE researchers investigate topics including health, food security, economic and community development. 

Co-chair of CARE and UD Associate Professor and Chair of the Economics department, Dr. Tammy Leonard, said that CARE would benefit students by providing them with opportunities to serve vulnerable populations while conducting research in areas of interest. 

In an interview with The University News, Leonard stated that student involvement in CARE has helped them see the nuances of social issues and gain experience.

“One day [a student] walked into my office, and he said ‘Dr. Leonard, you know, I interviewed this couple and they were both working at minimum wage jobs and they had four kids’ and he just kind of paused and he says ‘and I’m pro-life, and now I have to think about what that means when I say we shouldn’t raise the minimum wage,’” Leonard said.

“That was this beautiful moment where he didn’t come to a conclusion at that moment,” said Leonard. “But he came really in touch with the significance of the questions and how there really aren’t easy answers.” 

In an interview with The University News, Leonard stated that “CARE was born out of a desire to do research that impacts the local community in a sort of a real way.”

“Few people really have this kind of rigorous partnership between researchers and nonprofits as a way of collecting data about a population that we all care about.” said Leonard.”We rarely collect data from them and when we do it’s usually not representative of low-income folks.

Without the partnership, this type of research is typically costly and not feasible since researchers have a difficult time following up with families that rely on the nonprofits. However, the partnership with CARE allows researchers to get closer to the population they intend to help. 

Leonard describes the work researchers do as “translation.” CARE researchers work with the questions nonprofits and members of the community have and translate them into questions that can be investigated.

The researchers advise nonprofits of the design of surveys and other constructs, nonprofits gather the data from clients as a part of their administrative data, CARE researchers analyze data for nonprofits, and together CARE and nonprofits translate findings into actionable results. . Nonprofits use the information to improve their programs.

“The benefit of it, too, is that once we test this and we get evidence, our nonprofits are ready to put these plans into action,” said Leonard.Furthermore they’re ready to share these plans with other nonprofits.

This month, CARE will collaborate with Crossroads Community Services, North Texas Food Bank and Share Life Community Outreach to begin a study on the relationship between food pantries and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. 

According to Leonard, the food provided by the pantries is meant to supplement SNAP and is not intended to be a last resort. Still, people usually go to the food pantry after they have exhausted their SNAP benefits. 

After the study is over, the CARE researchers will provide the nonprofit with evidence that will help them make decisions. Crossroads aims to improve coordination of SNAP usage with food pantry usage to improve client wellbeing. 

Senior human and social sciences major Kaylea Burt has worked as a volunteer engagement coordinator for Crossroads after Affiliate Professor of Human and Social Sciences Dr. Carla Pezzia put her in contact with the nonprofit. 

Over the summer, Burt interned at the nonprofit, where she assisted volunteers to distribute food to the Crossroad’s clients in addition to promoting nutrition education. 

Burt continues her involvement by assisting with the operations of the nonprofit.  She recognizes that CARE helps Crossroads serve people better. 

“In reference to CARE, I think it’s really important that it goes along with Crossroads’ whole thing of nourishing and helping [vulnerable people] create a better future for themselves,” Burt said. “[The effort] is a testament to how involved [CARE researchers] want to be with their lives overall.”

As Burt continues to work with Crossroads, and Leonard hopes to encourageadd more students to the partnership. 

At the moment, UD is not funding CARE, but UD administration has been very supportive and Leonard is working with Hibbs to seek additional ways that UD can support student involvement.

 A CARE student informational meeting will be held soon.

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