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Pillsbury United Communities delivers community health services holistically - Sahan Journal

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Pillsbury United Communities doing community health: conversations with frontline workers

When Awol Windissa describes his work, his vision is broad. “Community health,” he says, “is a way of connecting the dots between health, nutrition, chronic disease, acute disease and the social determinants of health. We cannot talk about housing and ignore employment. You can’t talk about mental health and forget about the addiction part of the problem.

As Director of Community Health for Pillsbury United Communities, a nonprofit organization with more than 140 years of service in Minneapolis, Awol oversees a growing team of community health workers responding to needs ranging from education to diabetes. to affordable housing. * First founded as a small team under the Population Health umbrella, the Community Health Impact Zone has grown to include its own director, an operations manager and five community health workers at full time meeting with community members at neighborhood centers across Minneapolis.

Awol Windissa, Community Health Manager Credit: Pillsbury United Communities

Work for well-being

At Community Health’s oldest site, the Brian Coyle Neighborhood Center in Cedar-Riverside, services are provided primarily to older Somali and Oromo people by Community Health staff who grew up in East African communities. . Awol, along with community health workers Fowzia Abdullahi, Abdul Sero and Abdiqani Abdi, provide education, support and resources to people in the neighborhood and beyond.

Among the services offered by the team are assistance navigating for public benefits such as Social Security and SNAP, assistance working with US medical systems, diabetes management education, and other chronic illnesses, and transportation to and from grocery stores or medical appointments.

Fowzia explains the link between all these services: “For me, community health means the well-being of the community. . . We are community builders. We are developers. We support with employment. We support immigration, housing, connecting with doctors, so many things. And it all starts with health. . . When you’re healthy, you can do so much.

Community health is community power

What does solving this wide variety of problems look like in action? Abdul Sero notes that many of the people he works with are of immigrant and refugee background and often have traumatic experiences with them. In response, he defines his work by saying that “community health is a place where we reduce community stress in many ways, ranging from direct or indirect aid and community education to helping to become self-sufficient”.

Similarly, Abdiqani talks about how older people often leave the chronic disease self-management course he teaches with a sense of empowerment. “A lot of people sometimes feel like things are happening to them,” he says, “and they can’t do anything. But when we do these studio classes, they feel like – oh, at least there’s something.

Fowzia Abdullahi, Community Health Coordinator Credit: Pillsbury United Communities

Public health professionals like Awol link these ideas of stress and power to the concept of social determinants of health. “The current model of community health is very inclusive,” he says: If someone doesn’t have enough income to pay rent, doesn’t have access to reliable transportation, or is experiencing the historical and daily impact of racism and discrimination, his health . probably suffer. Addressing these “determinants” can help improve health outcomes, such as the toll of chronic disease on a person’s life or their risk of hospitalization from influenza.

So whether it’s staying on the phone with a seniors insurance company for hours, providing transportation and interpretation during a DVS appointment, or facilitating a conversation about medication management , community health workers in Pillsbury accompany people where they are to support them where they go.

Dreaming the future of community health

And they have big dreams for the future. “I want to see us get more involved in housing support,” says Fowzia. No one should lose their home because they get sick or lose their job, she says: that too is part of being healthy. She’s also excited to see Pillsbury begin to address mental health and opioid use disorders in the Cedar-Riverside and Phillips neighborhoods through new programs funded by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Awol also mentions the growing opioid crisis facing Cedar-Riverside and neighborhoods across the city. “I will see one day that [Pillsbury] has a self-sufficient mental health and addictions program. . . Eventually, I would like to have a hybrid approach – clinical and non-clinical. He also mentions the expansion of Cedar-Riverside’s community health programs to Phillips and North Minneapolis as a way Pillsbury is already bringing in the future.

Senior aide Mohamed Kaid receives a shot at a Brian Coyle clinic Credit: Pillsbury United Communities

Abdiqani encapsulates the holistic impact he and his team dream of for community health work. “When we talk about community health,” he says, “a lot of people will think we’re just talking about disease, virus or bacteria, but that’s not it. It’s more about improving people’s quality of life, improving their health, teaching people how to engage in meaningful relationships in their community, how to take care of their bodies and their brains. . . I wish I could say it in one word, but it’s a lot. What community health means to me – it really is something big.

Connect with us

Has this article prompted a question about your health? Do you know an older person who could benefit from learning how to manage their chronic illness? Get in touch with the Pillsbury United Communities Community Health Team by calling Brian Coyle Center Reception at 612-338-5382 or emailing our Manager, Awol Windissa at

* In 2022, Pillsbury United Communities’ community health work was funded by the Minnesota Departments of Health and Human Services, Trellis (through funding from the Seniors Act), the CDC Foundation and Steven’s Square Foundation.