UGA researcher awarded $3 million grant to enhance coastal communities

July 18th, 2017 Contact: Denise Lewis  |  706-542-0254  | More about Denise

WASHINGTON – A College of Family and Consumer Sciences researcher has received one of four grants from the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to support projects aimed at enhancing resilience among coastal communities in the Gulf of Mexico region.

Denise Lewis, an associate professor in the FACS department of human development and family science, was awarded a grant of $3,076,000 to engage with Cambodian and Laotian families in Mobile, Ala., to determine how individual, family and community-level strengths and vulnerabilities contribute to community health and how individuals utilize social networks for formal services to respond to environmental stressors and disasters.

Other UGA co-investigators are Desiree Seponski from FACS and Curtis Harris, Sarah DeYoung and Tawny Waltz from the UGA College of Public Health.

The project will develop culturally responsive interventions and strategies for increasing community capacity and resilience. Lewis will work in conjunction with the Cambodian Association of Mobile and the Lao Association of Mobile.

"A key benefit of this multi-disciplinary, community-based participatory research project is the inclusion of community leaders and decision-makers in each step," Lewis said. "Our project moves beyond collaboration to a partnership of co-creators of science and practice using culturally responsive methods that identify, prevent and/or mitigate the effects of catastrophic environmental events to create effective and sustainable outcomes across these two coastal Cambodian and Laotian communities."

All four funded projects will increase understanding of community attributes that influence resilience and develop tools and strategies communities can use to strengthen their resilience, according to a press release from the NASEM.

Gulf Coast communities are frequently challenged by a variety of unique environmental stressors stemming from climate change and both natural- and human-caused disasters.  

In recent years such events have included droughts, hurricanes, sinking coastal areas, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. While adverse events are a major challenge for any community, the degree to which communities effectively respond and recover can differ significantly.

“In creating this opportunity with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we sought to bring together researchers, practitioners, and community members to work on a less-studied area of community resilience: how various health, social, cultural, and economic factors interact to influence a community’s ability to withstand adverse environmental challenges,” said LeighAnne Olsen, director of strategic initiatives for the GRP, said in a press release.  “The goal is to identify and develop practical things communities can do to enhance their ability to deal with future challenges.”

“We are working with diverse Gulf communities to better understand their capacity to prepare for, withstand, and recover from acute and chronic adversity,” said Brian Quinn, associate vice president of Research-Evaluation-Learning at RWJF.  “For too many of us, our prospects for good health are limited by where we live. Whether it is vulnerability to environmental disasters or chronic poverty, we know that the confluence of the diverse factors that impact resilience are closely tied to health equity.  Ultimately, we hope to uncover what nurtures resilience in our communities, which is essential to building a Culture of Health. We all benefit when we all have a fair shot to live the healthiest lives possible.”

The four projects were selected after an external peer-review process.  These awards are part of the portfolio of Gulf Research Program funding opportunities outlined here.

Other awarded projects are:

Community Resilience Learning Collaborative and Research Network – $2,522,000

Project Director: Benjamin Springgate (Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center – New Orleans)

Project Team Affiliations: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center – New Orleans in cooperation with Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program; Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development; Community and Patient Partnered Research Network; Greater New Orleans Inc.; Healthy African Families II; Louisiana Community Health Outreach Network; Louisiana Department of Health; Resilient Baton Rouge; St. Anna’s Episcopal Church; Tulane University; University of California – Los Angeles; and University of Southern California

The project aims to improve resilience and mental health outcomes in six communities in southern Louisiana that are vulnerable to poor health outcomes and the impacts of disasters.  By establishing a community-partnered learning collaborative and research network, this project will build capacity to test and promote practices that can strengthen resilience.  The project team will directly engage with communities within Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and coastal southern Louisiana, although the efforts and lessons are likely scalable to other Gulf States and beyond.

Housing Resilience in Greater New Orleans – $2,266,000

Project Director: Carlos Martin (Urban Institute)

Project Team Affiliations: Urban Institute in cooperation with Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Center; Texas A&M University; and University of California – Berkeley

Though homes provide a first line of defense for individuals against environmental stressors and disasters, little is understood about how housing shapes community resilience.  This project plans to examine housing policy and practices that affect household vulnerability to disasters along with the quality and accessibility of related tools and resources households can use to reduce those vulnerabilities.  The project will develop strategies for equitable housing programs, policies, and practices that can strengthen the resilience of whole communities.  The focus will be on populations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change in the greater New Orleans area, but the information and tools developed are intended to help build household resilience throughout the Gulf region.

Inland from the Coast: A Multi-Scalar Approach to Regional Climate Change Responses – $2,936,000

Project Director: Jeff Carney (Louisiana State University Coastal Sustainability Studio) 

Project Team Affiliations: Louisiana State University – Baton Rouge in cooperation with Louisiana Sea Grant and University of New Orleans

Risks from sea-level rise, land subsidence, and extreme weather are not limited to coastal areas but threaten entire inland-coastal regions.  This project takes a multi-scalar, multi-disciplinary approach to river flood modeling, health and well-being research, and applied community design to improve flood recovery and long-term resilience across the greater Baton Rouge inland-coastal region.  The team links university researchers with professional architects, engineers, landscape architects, planners, policymakers, and community members to improve understanding of inland-coastal environmental conditions and vulnerabilities, determine indicators of community health and well-being, and develop design and planning best practices for reducing risk and increasing adaptive capacity.  While the project is focused on helping the greater Baton Rouge region emerge more resilient from the devastating 2016 floods, the resulting framework will be applicable to inland-coastal regions across the Gulf Coast and beyond.

The GRP and RWJF jointly developed and funded this opportunity, with GRP contributing $5.8 million and RWJF contributing $5 million. GRP will administer the awards.  For more information, visit

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. The RWJF is working with others to build a national Culture of Health enabling everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives.

The Gulf Research Program, a program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, was established in 2013 as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and seeks to improve understanding of the interconnecting human, environmental, and energy systems of the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. outer continental shelf areas. The program funds grants, fellowships, and other activities using three broad approaches: research and development, education and training, and environmental monitoring.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. The Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. 

This release was adapted from the news release developed by Molly Galvin, senior media officer with NASEM, and Joshua Blatt, media relations assistant. The original release can be viewed here.

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Tags: stressors, resilience, refugees, refugee, laotian, lao, immigrant, families, disasters, deepwater horizon

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