Grad builds class project into community health campaign

Larissa Puro
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Larissa Puro
Published
May 8, 2017
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Pictured: Delcie Strahan. Photo by Lori Strahan.

Delcie Strahan didn’t expect to move back to her small town in Shasta County, Calif., after college. But in 2012 that’s where she found herself—and her passion—beginning a career in public health as a patient educator.

Today, after graduating from USC’s Master of Public Health online program in Fall 2016, she has become the face of a city-wide health campaign benefiting her community’s homeless population.

As an educator, Strahan enjoys helping people find control over their health and lives. “There’s a beautiful moment, usually about halfway through our programs, where the principles and skills we’ve been learning start to click into place,” she said. “Those are the moments that inspired me to pursue my Master of Public Health from the University of Southern California.”

Studying in the MPH Health Education and Promotion Track she learned the theories behind programs she was already teaching—from diabetes self-management to tobacco cessation—and how to employ critical thinking to change the way she thought and saw the world around her. 

Strahan said her biggest accomplishment while pursuing her degree was completing her practicum project—which grew into the successful public health program it is today, known as the Clean Break Partnership.

Helping the homeless

Starting out, Strahan planned to use “photovoice,” a photography analysis method, to document the homeless population in Redding. But when her advisor said, “What’s your ask?” she realized she first needed to know exactly what would make a difference in the residents’ lives.

One day, a homeless person came up to her and asked if there was a bathroom nearby. With no public restrooms around and most businesses hanging “Restrooms are for Customers Only” signs, Strahan didn’t have a good answer for him.

The encounter inspired her. She visited parks and community centers to conduct a needs assessment that confirmed many people were either forgoing showers or bathing in the river—and using the streets instead of bathrooms. With few safe places available to practice hygiene, Strahan knew something had to be done, and that she was the person to do it.

From vision to reality

With her focus established, she used her project’s photovoice work to hold a fundraiser which raised $10,000 to increase access to showers and restrooms in the city. The vision: to purchase a trailer that would move from location to location, reaching as many people as possible—and supply each visitor with a shower kit and fresh towel—while emphasizing socially conscious practices, like a clothing exchange to reduce waste.

Pictured: Delcie Strahan. Photo by Lori Strahan.

In April, the Clean Break Partnership completed its 12-week pilot project and provided guests with more than 300 showers. With the money from the fundraiser, the program rented a shower trailer to operate once a week for four weeks. Representatives from a growing list of local partner organizations supervised the trailer and engaged guests to connect them with more resources in the community. 

Local media have been featuring Strahan’s success, and she said she hopes the program becomes a permanent fixture in Redding to help break the cycle of homelessness. The next step, though, is to change a local zoning ordinance and she’s working closely with local officials to get the ordinance changed through Redding City Council.

“Having the opportunity to dig my hands into a project that I loved so dearly was an absolutely invaluable experience that I will always carry with me,” she said.

After graduation, Strahan is proud to continue her career as a health educator. “I use my master’s every single day, whether or not I’m working,” she said. “What I learned in my MPH program informs all my decisions—both personal and professional.

She urges all future graduates to find a field, job or population they love working with. “If you love what you, do then it really isn’t work.”