Over the last 20 years, many universities have ramped up community-based research efforts to ensure that individuals and families who participate in academic studies are respected and to promote a more collaborative process in addressing community problems.
But what if these kinds of partnerships were driven even more by the needs of a community and not a research agenda? What if academic institutions financially supported the innovative ideas of residents eager to address the challenges their neighborhoods often face?
Thanks to the generosity of alumna Vera Tayeh, MSW ’87, UNC School of Social Work aims to do just that with the launch of the Tayeh Call for Collaboration (C4C) for Children, Youth and Family Well-being. The project, funded with a $260,000 gift from Tayeh, will support meaningful community initiatives focused on strengthening the lives of individuals and families.
For Tayeh, a member of the School’s Board of Advisors and a long-time supporter of social work education, these funds represent a new opportunity for communities to define their problems, such as economic, education, health, social and other issues, and to develop their own solutions to them. As a partner, the School of Social Work will assist communities in identifying public and private agencies, municipal leaders, nonprofits, organizations, volunteers and others to collaborate with on innovative programs and interventions. The School will provide the C4C funding to support projects that communities choose to pursue.
“My goal is to not do the same old thing, but to try something new,” said Tayeh, who has worked in child welfare in Wake County for more than 20 years. “I want to see innovation and impact. If we work together, we can get there.”
For the School of Social Work, the gift will ensure that social work researchers are available to provide funded projects with needed technical expertise. Social work faculty will work to ensure that solutions such as parenting interventions to prevent child abuse and neglect, for example, have a scientific path to success, said Dean Ramona Denby-Brinson.
Tayeh’s gift will also support Ph.D. students interested in assisting with a C4C project through the creation of a doctoral fellowship to support tuition, stipend, insurance, fees, and professional development. Students will work with faculty and community partners to assess needs, identify and test solutions and expand effective outcomes.
“We are so grateful to Vera Tayeh for creating the C4C program,” Denby-Brinson said. “Her gift will support teams to do pilot work around any area that supports children and families. It can be macro work or micro work that’s built up and driven by community members themselves, paired with researchers, students, and people throughout the community. That’s what we mean by the call for collaborations.”
Helping groups that support children and families to attract additional investments is also key to ensuring the work continues beyond the School’s involvement, Denby-Brinson added.
“We want to work with communities and organizations to show them how to bring more federal funding back into North Carolina to shore up some of the services and sustain some of the work,” she said.
Long-term, Tayeh views the C4C project as a proactive tool for helping communities address issues earlier.
“Let’s do something different,” she said. “Don’t wait. What I’m calling for is a more innovative way of working together. Our society cannot keep doing the same thing and expecting something different. We have to see what is going on in our society and address it up front, and not wait until it becomes more problematic.”