Mat-Su Health Foundation

Mat-Su Health Foundation’s main office, located in downtown Wasilla.

WASILLA — The Mat-Su Health Foundation is inviting the public to see how their fellow community members used photographs to answer the question, “what in your community or life helps your health or is a barrier to good health?” during the Photovoice Exhibition Thursday, Feb. 6 from 4 to 7 p.m.

“They were so passionate and happy to be asked; they just really bonded,” Mat-Su Health Foundation Chief Communications Officer Robin Minard said. “It was remarkable to see these people from all these different walks of life come together and spend all the time that they had to do this project.”

The Mat-Su Health Foundation is using the Photovoice project as a supplemental tool for their most recent Community Health Needs Assessment, according to Minard. She said the Foundation collects data for the assessment by polling the community every three years to help map out future grants and projects to meet the people “where they’re at.”

“That’s part of our theory of change is to meet people where they’re at, and to work on things the community is ready to take on,” Minard said.

11 different groups from across the Valley participated in the Photovoice project.

The various groups of citizens came together to produce photos based on the Foundation’s questions about identifying factors that “promote health” in the community, and the factors that “hurt health.”

“We embarked on the Photovoice project because we realized that the traditional methodology… was not adequately capturing the voices of all Mat-Su residents,” Minard said. “For example, we may not have been hearing the voices of young people, those without telephones, those who don’t trust traditional systems, including government, and those who speak English as a second language or are recent immigrants and refugees.”

The Photovoice project is a way to identify strengths, weaknesses, and barriers people encounter in their environment and the surrounding community, according to Minard. She said they call it a “participatory research method.”

“One thing kind of unique about the Foundation is that everything we do is based on research and data. That’s how we decide what problems to work on and what our focus areas are,” Minard said.

Once participants finished taking their photos, they shared their work with their group leaders to come up with captions that fit the theme they were going for.

The Photovoice data will be used to supplement the Foundation’s newest community health assessment. Minard said they plan to work Mat-Su Regional to create action plans based on their assessment findings. The findings were fueled by community participation.

Minard said a spectrum of community groups participated in the Photovoice project, including the Chickaloon Traditional Council (three groups: elders, women and tribal citizens); Kabayan Inc (Filipino Community); Knik Tribe; Latinx residents; Mat-Su Health Services: Parents with Purpose (CCS Early Learning); senior citizens; Williwaw residents, and R.O.C.K. Mat-Su’s Youth Leadership Council.

The Photovoice Exhibition will be on display Thursday at the Mat-Su Health Foundation’s building, located at 777 North Crusey Street in downtown Wasilla. For more information, call 907-352-2863.

To view the MSHF Community Health Needs Assessment, visit their website at healthymatsu.org.

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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