Syracuse, NY – When Palmer Harvey is at someone’s house, she looks at the painting.
But she does not judge their interior decoration. She looks for chipping, chipping, cracking or chipping – any possible sign of lead paint, a possible problem in thousands of homes in Syracuse.
“If I see peeling paint in a house, it’s up to me to say to them, ‘You have to have your child examined, because I see little faces here, and it is possible that this is happening in your house. “,” Said Harvey, Senior Community Ambassador for the South Side with the Center for Court Innovation.
CCI and Planned Parenthood of Western & Central New York are teaming up to offer âKitchen Table Talks,â a series of intimate discussions led by community members in their own homes.
Lead poisoning is a big problem in Syracuse. One in five devastating children in the city’s poorest neighborhoods have high levels of lead in their blood, health officials report. This is in part because much of the city’s housing was built before lead paint was banned in the 1970s.
Some of those most at risk seem to think the lead issues were fixed âa long time ago,â Harvey said. But especially in working-class neighborhoods, this is not the case.
So neighbors are carrying the message about lead poisoning in homes, hoping to speak and hear from hundreds of residents. They will also encourage people to have their children tested.
âWe’re able to get a variety of really different perspectives and innovative ideas from people who might not normally show up at large public forums,â said Leah Russell, community development coordinator for the Syracuse Peacemaking Project at CCI. âWe really hear from people whose voices have never been heard on important issues in their community. “
One of those people, Shawn Pope, is already getting ready to host one of the talks at his West Side home. Pope first hosted a kitchen roundtable in 2016 and has been involved with CCI ever since.
The setup is simple: chairs in a circle, food on the table, disposable plates, and open discussion.
âIt’s smaller, it’s more family-friendly, and I think people express themselves more because they know the people who are speaking better,â Pope said. “I think they feel more that their voice is heard.”
Participants in the lead-focused kitchen table discussions are selected in part using the Central New York Community Foundation’s Needs Assessment Tool, which asks people simple questions about their quality of life, then try to put them in touch with services.
Frank Ridzi, vice president of community investment for the Central New York Community Foundation, said that despite the major problem in Syracuse, the number of people having their children tested has declined rapidly in recent years, especially during the pandemic.
âThere’s a lot of attention being paid to leadership, and we think we’re making a lot of progress here. But then why is the number of people who do not have their homes or their children tested for lead so high? Ridzi said.
This is where table discussions come in. Rather than relying on hunches or anecdotal evidence, the group will be able to speak directly with people where they are affected – at home.
“I always say you don’t have to hit every person in the neighborhood, you just have to hit the person with the biggest mouth,” Harvey joked.
The talks were designed in part to prevent community aid groups from over-investigating and under-producing services in high-risk neighborhoods, said Sarah Rekess, project director at CCI.
âWe asked, ‘Why do you have to take people out of their homes to do this? Why do you have to ask the most of those who have the least to give all the time? âReckess said. âWhy do we keep asking people for their opinion and never come up with solutions or allow them to come up with solutions? “
CCI started using the model in 2016, first for general discussions with the community, and then on more specific topics, including elder abuse and housing issues.
The discussions started small – eight or ten people in a living room or around someone’s kitchen table. But word spread quickly and within five months the group had already reached 800 people with more than 60 discussions around the kitchen table, Russell said.
Each conference functions much like a focus group, with interested people answering facilitated questions. But the relaxed setting, the food, and the fact that people don’t have to move away from their homes allows the program to reach people it otherwise wouldn’t have, Russell said.
The Lead-Focused Kitchen Table Talk Round is funded by a $ 40,000 grant from the Community Foundation. This type of grant supports data measurement efforts, Ridzi said.
But the discussions around the kitchen table aim to go far beyond a simple data collection tool, Russell said.
âThis may be your first interaction with someone, but it stays with them. It’s a transformative conversation that makes them see our organization differently,â she said. âAnd that’s because we hear them. differently.”
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