A Crash Course in Public Health—6 Intriguing Projects I’ve Learned About in My First 6 Months at JSI

January 24th, 2018 | Viewpoint


On World AIDS Day 2017, JSI advocated on Capitol Hill for people living with HIV around the globe. I was proud to be involved that day, speaking with congressional offices on the importance of continued support for the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and Ryan White HIV/AIDS Programs.

I found myself at a loss, however, when a representative’s staffer asked what JSI was doing about the link between HIV and the opioid crisis. At any given time, JSI implements more than 200 projects in the U.S. and around the world. Having only recently joined JSI, I was not well-versed enough to answer the question on the spot.

Upon my return to Boston, I began researching this niche subject and learned about a SAMHSA-funded project that we managed between 2013 and 2014 to help Iris House, an AIDS-service organization in Harlem, New York, to mitigate substance abuse and HIV transmission among high-risk populations.

This got me thinking about other interesting JSI projects in the U.S. that I’d heard mentioned in my six months here. So I decided that I would learn about six—one for each month—current or recent state-based JSI projects that may be less well-known but that are helping vulnerable communities across the country.  

Without further ado, I call your attention to the following worthy projects.

Assessing African American Gambling Habits in Massachusetts

Have you heard? Three new casinos are opening soon in Massachusetts. Gambling addiction has long been considered a public health problem so JSI is using its evaluation and addiction expertise to examine recreational and problem gambling behavior among African Americans.

Infant Safe Sleep Research and Social Marketing in Vermont

I had no idea that placing a baby on his/her back to sleep prevents unintentional infant asphyxiation. JSI helped improved and rebrand Safe to Sleep, formerly Back to Sleep, which works toward the Healthy Vermonters 2020 and Title V Maternal and Child Health Block Grant goals of reducing sudden unexpected infant death by educating the public (myself included!) on safe sleep environment and practice.

Support for At-Risk Young Adults in Massachusetts

In an effort to continue a MA Department of Mental Health initiative, YouForward, JSI helped to identify further funding opportunities for the YouForward initiative. Through peer support, a welcoming community space, flexible programming, and an emphasis on building self-sufficiency, YouForward helps young adults accomplish their goals and meet their full potential. Investing in smooth transitions to adulthood avoids negative long-term health and financial consequences.

Ending Youth Sex Trafficking in Wisconsin

JSI has researched and gathered knowledge from key stakeholders to develop messages to inform Wisconsin residents that sex trafficking of Wisconsin youth under the age of 18 is a problem in urban, suburban, rural, and tribal communities across the state. The goals of the campaign are to:

  1. Bring awareness to the indicators that a youth is being sex trafficked or may be at risk of being sex trafficked.
  2. Disseminate information about the risk factors that may make youth more vulnerable to being trafficked for sex.
  3. Implement an effective statewide campaign that reduces demand and prevents sex trafficking of youth in Wisconsin.

Combating Climate Change in Massachusetts

I live in Somerville, MA, where we just endured one of the worst winter storms on record. The ability of communities across the world to meet the challenges of a changing climate can only be strengthened by prevention activities and public health preparedness and response planning. JSI is supporting the integration of social equity, health, and well-being into Somerville’s climate adaptation goals. JSI is also informing stakeholders about environmental and public health best practices for review and incorporation into the climate emergency preparedness plan.

Healthy Incentives Programs in California and Massachusetts

Farmers’ markets are not just for millennials looking for the next craze in fermentation (even though, as a kombucha fanatic, I love them). Launched in April 2017, the Healthy Incentives Program provides monthly financial incentives to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) households when they purchase vegetables and fruits from Massachusetts and California farmers at farmers markets, farm stands, community supported agriculture farms, and mobile markets. The money they spend at these retailers is immediately added back to their Electronic Benefits Transfer cards and can be spent at any  SNAP retailer.


It was great digging into these projects to learn more about JSI’s work. I realized that health communications is a key component of a lot of the projects on this list. My draw to these projects confirms that I really did choose the right field, that of communications. I’m glad I found my fulfilling foothold at JSI working in international and domestic public health. That’s all, folks!

Written by: Shona Karp

Partner with Us

We strive to build lasting relationships to produce better health outcomes for all.