Milwaukee County executive Chris Abele, Mayor Tom Barrett, UWM Chancellor Mike Lovell, and EPA Region 5 administrator Dr. Susan Hedman joined other dignitaries in announcing the award of a nearly $300,000 Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) grant to the Westlawn CARE Partnership at the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center on November 10, 2011. The event marked the 100th award by the US Environmental Protection Agency’s CARE program.
The announcement follows the award three years ago of an initial CARE grant to the UWM College of Nursing’s CARE partnership with the Westlawn neighborhood and other community organizations.
The Westlawn partnership was one of only three in the nation to be awarded additional EPA financing. This second round of funding will allow the partnership to expand existing environmental projects. The Westlawn Partnership for a Healthier Environment, which started in the fall of 2008, now involves 44 members from 26 different organizations, as well as local residents, working together to promote a healthy neighborhood and reduce exposure to environmental toxins.
Westlawn, home of the largest publicly funded housing development in the state, faces some significant health challenges related to environmental issues, according to Anne Dressel of the College of Nursing who is principal investigator for the EPA project.
Asthma-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits among Westlawn residents are some of the highest in Milwaukee. The rate of emergency room visits for asthma within Westlawn’s 53218 ZIP code is four times that of other areas of the state, and the rate of hospitalization is more than three times that of the rest of the state.
“The EPA is proud to support this ambitious project to improve community health,” said EPA regional administrator Susan Hedman. “The Agency has committed nearly $400,000 to help make homes and day care centers in Westlawn healthier for children, especially those who suffer from asthma.”
In addition to asthma- related issues, community residents have identified a number of other serious concerns, including lack of access to fresh, healthy food; mold; poor indoor air quality; and pest management.
In the past two years, the partnership has achieved a number of successes in addressing these problems, says Dressel.
The partnership worked with police to reduce speeding in the neighborhood and with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) to get “no smoking” signs placed outside the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center, which shares space with Browning Elementary School. Smokers had congregated there, and secondhand smoke can contribute to asthma symptoms.
To address air quality issues, the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (HACM) will include asthma-friendly housing in the Westlawn Housing Redevelopment. Two HACM representatives are members of the Westlawn partnership.
“We are pleased to be one of the original members of the partnership, because its goals mirror the Housing Authority’s goals with the ongoing redevelopment of the Westlawn neighborhood: to build a stronger, healthier community,” said Ken Barbeau, manager of HACM Community Services.
In addition, the CARE partnership helped organize a neighborhood cleanup and is working with HACM to add green space and trees and prevent mold in the new development. The nearby Growing Power urban farming project and a business member of the group, Milwaukee’s Asian Markets, are part of the partnership, leading efforts to make more fresh produce available.
The partnership also works closely with UWM nurses and nursing students at the Silver Spring Community Nursing Center to promote health and wellness through education and preventive care. Nursing students are working with MPS nurses and students on an asthma awareness program called “Asthma Smarts” and are teaching hands-on environmental science at the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center’s Community Learning Centers.