KETTERING, Ohio (WDTN) — Kettering College is preparing to launch a new program that would help connect people living in underserved communities to things like health care and basic needs.

Johnjé Jasper moved to the Miami Valley to become a nurse and worked in the emergency rooms of Kettering Health. Now, she is leading the charge to help people living in underserved communities.

“My mom is an immigrant from South Africa, my dad was adopted at a young age, and even though I did grow up in a single parent home and worked through college, I was able to be here, get my bachelor’s degree and now I’m in this program so I can help others do the same,” Jasper explained.

Jasper is the Program and Data Collection Coordinator for the new Community Health Worker Certificate at Kettering College. Community Health Workers bridge the gap between community members and their healthcare providers.

“The Community Health Worker role is a liaison between the community and the health care side, so they can actually connect people with resources to help them meet their health goals,” Jasper said.

Community Health Workers live in the communities in which they serve. Jasper is looking for applicants who are passionate about helping others. Anyone is welcome to apply, and no prior experience is needed. She is also hoping to recruit people living in the West Dayton and Trotwood communities, and people who experienced health disparities themselves.

“Because they will be coming from the community, they can say ‘hey I used this food pantry before’ or ‘hey I’ve been to Job and Family Services, I know they will take care of you, just like they took care of me.’ So this will be a very personal and trusting relationship that the Community Health Worker will have, and some people have even gone through these issues before,” Jasper said

The semester-long program includes both classroom learning and time working out in the community. Thanks to a more than $1.8 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), tuition is completely covered. Jasper said they will also cover wrap-around services, which includes things like a new laptop or paying for childcare.

“It’s really difficult to be a working individual and have children or other people that you have to take care of and really balance that, so we want to do our best to help alleviate that off the students,” Jasper said

Jasper said they are looking to focus on specific areas in the Miami Valley that have been deemed under-resourced, including Trotwood and West Dayton.

“There was a Community Health Needs Assessment that was done in 2021, that was done by GDAHA, the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association and the Health Collaborative, which showed that economic stability was the biggest social determinant of health that had to do with an increase in health conditions in our area. Nationally, it’s access to care, but here in our area it’s economic stability. So that’s what we want to target,” Jasper said.

Several organizations already employ a team of Community Health Workers, including the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association’s Community Pathways Hub. Sarah Hackenbracht is the President and CEO.

“It is still a relatively new model for the community to know and understand. And we are exceptionally proud of our community agencies that have been interested and excited to come to the table and find ways to embed community health workers into the services they provide,” Hackenbracht said.

The first cohort will begin in August 2023. If you are interested in applying or hoping to learn more, click here.