Reflections from Dr. Alison Chopel

CAHC bids farewell to former CAHC Director, Dr. Alison Chopel. Alison started working with the Public Health Institute as an intern and served PHI in other roles before stepping into the role of CAHC Director. In today's post, Alison shares with us her thoughts on her time with the Collaborative. 

This will be my last blog post for CAHC as I am transitioning away from my role here. What an amazing four and a half years this has been! As I reflect on the programs and studies developed and launched under my leadership, I can see that they were born out of a very personal passion. All of them are programs that could have served me in my own adolescence. 

I cannot take credit for the School Health Centers Healthy Adolescent Relationships Program (SHARP), a brilliant evaluation of an intervention developed by Dr. Liz Miller in collaboration with the CA School Based Health Alliance, Futures without Violence, and my predecessor Sandi Goldstein. Its objective was to develop and test an intervention to prevent and intervene on adolescent relationship abuse (ARA) using school-based health centers (SHC). We are still writing up the results, see our publications section for some articles and be on the lookout for an upcoming paper on the focus group findings. This project was incredibly inspiring to me and while working with colleagues at the Central Valley Riverbank High SHC, I learned that any intervention in this area would be welcomed by our Central Valley colleagues. As a survivor of adolescent relationship abuse myself, it was amazing for me to be able to help create the awareness and develop the adult allies that were completely lacking in my own young life. When the Golden Haven project was funded by the Blue Shield of California Foundation, it was the first grant proposal I had successfully competed for. Due to the insight, dedication and passion of our partners at the Haven Women’s Center, this project survived the loss of our original healthcare partner and became the Healthy Haven project that connected healthcare providers and domestic violence advocates to create a sustainable system to prevent, screen for, and address ARA in Stanislaus County.

That seed project blossomed into a greater partnership that led to an opportunity to work with multiple partner organizations in Stanislaus, Merced and Alameda counties through the Healthy Relationships and Economic Pathways (H-REP) program. This project has been so meaningful to me because we are able to serve youth in so many different circumstances; by working in traditional high schools we get vast coverage, reaching large amounts of students, but we also provide specialized programming that enables us to impact homeless youth, young parents, and incarcerated youth. At one point I also identified with each of these labels. Although I was only incarcerated for one week in my adolescence, I was homeless for six months, and the feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness are extreme, overwhelming and memorable in both circumstances. Many homeless youth are invisible and feel that not one person in the world cares about their wellbeing, while incarcerated youth are hyper-visible, but those around them only seem to care to control them, not to protect or listen to them. Through the H-REP program, there are adults in the lives of these young people who genuinely care about them and are able to express it.

Yet another vulnerable and marginalized population that my team and I have had the opportunity to work with are commercially sexually exploited youth. Through the Youth Empowerment Health-The More You Know (YEH project), we were able to partner with Dr. Aisha Mays and MISSSEY to explore the health information needs of girls in this community, and then follow their lead as they invited us into their realities through a beautiful, creative, and emotional PhotoVoice project guided by Stephanie Ratcliff.

My personal connection to youth and adolescence doesn’t start and end with traumatic memories, though. I also remember when I myself was in high school I was so curious about the world, the one opportunity I had to engage in original research was invigorating. I see this same curiosity and mental nimbleness in the adolescent researchers I had the pleasure to train and work alongside with in both the Marketing of E-cigarettes Towards Adolescents Study (META-Oak) and the Young Mothers’ Research (YMR) studies. Be on the look out for upcoming articles about these studies too, co-authored by youth co-researchers! I am so excited that our findings about the ways that tobacco and e-cigarette products are marketed toward adolescents and the social and structural factors impacting breastfeeding among young mothers will soon be disseminated to scientific and practice communities, hopefully in the Sage Open Journal and the Journal of Human Lactation. Continuing this journey of youth-partnered and co-led research, we were so fortunate to receive funding from PCORI to develop and implement Project PARTNER (Partnering with Adolescents to Ready The Newest Engaged Researchers). PARTNER was the first project to allow us to actually connect youth and adult allies from distinct communities in the Bay Area and the Central Valley. We saw that there were very different but yet quite parallel needs and strengths in each of these unique regions, and given that they are so economically influential on each other it made good sense to us to work to connect them in other ways. This project demonstrated that young people and adult allies can form bonds as a community while engaging in the labor of identifying, naming and prioritizing community health issues. 

People often, and young people especially, are dissatisfied with conducting the research and leaving it there. "Why investigate a problem if you can’t do anything about it?" they ask. The Community Health Equity Academy (CHEA) is a program that will do just that. Within Castlemont High School, CHEA is training and preparing students to be not just the next public health leaders, but leaders in many fields that will improve the social determinants of health.  This is beautiful to me, as a person who was not engaged during high school, I only learned about public health when I was about to finish college. I was an anthropology major, and when I participated in a field school I was dismayed to learn that academic anthropologists would rather preserve a taboo against latrines in order to study it than help to install latrines when the community was asking for them. My mentor, Dr. Sven Steinmo, told me that there was a field where I could both do research and respond to the needs and wishes of a community, and it was called public health. Only then did I start in the direction that led me to my own career in public health. Through CHEA, young people will know about this field much sooner, and the field will grow in leaps and bounds as people like the astounding members of CHEA’s Youth Advisory Council join it. I’m confident CHEA will continue to thrive and hope that CAHC’s partnership with CHEA will remain intact after my absence.

Towards the end of my time at CAHC I’ve been fortunate to learn about another avenue for change-making: policy advocacy. Thanks to the Alameda County Public Health Department, CAHC was able to support the training and development of our META-Oak researchers in local advocacy through the Tobacco Control Policy Leadership Institute (TCPLI.) Participating in this program has been a wonderful opportunity to move from research to action as we supported local policies to restrict advertising and sales of flavored tobacco, including menthol. Lastly, I got to learn more about statewide advocacy through participation in the Women’s Policy Institute, where my team created a policy to protect students’ rights to nurse or pump milk for their children while on community college and state university campuses. Please show your love for student parents and support AB2785!

By referring back to my own struggles and hopes in adolescence it seems that perhaps I think many youth are similar to me. While I experienced similar challenges and remember the particular strengths of that time of my life, I understand that youth today are living in a very different context. Similarly, while I am confident that the CAHC team and its new leader will continue the work that I have begun with the same values we established together as a team, I also am excited to see the new directions that the new team will take CAHC into. I have blindspots, there are things I could have done differently and I know that the new team will build upon my successes while learning from my mistakes.

I am ever-so-grateful to my team members past and present, my partners and partner organizations, PHI and our funders for supporting the impactful work we were fortunate to complete and engage in. I feel so much gratitude for the youth who have made our programs come alive through their participation, their passion, their questioning and their dedication to creating healthy communities.

My heart is in this work, as I go in new directions and labor in new places, I remain excited about novel ideas and new opportunities. Please feel free to reach out to me at if you would like to keep in touch or inform me of a new development.

Thank you for your partnership, your work and your dedication to the wellness of California’s youth!


Health is Pop Culture; Check out the Dream Youth Clinic!

CAHC is excited to share with our readers the following post prepared by Dr. Aisha Mays, Director of Adolescent and School Based Programs at Roots Community Health Center, and Medical Director of the Dream Youth Clinic. CAHC has partnered with Dr. Mays and MISSSEY (Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth) in the past on the Commericially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) project.

It is with extreme excitement that I announce the opening of the Dream Youth Clinic! The Dream Youth Clinic, operated by Roots Community Health Center, opened in October 2017 with the commitment to doing things differently in providing healthcare to the youth of Oakland! 

We've designed a full scope adolescent clinic, co-located within the Dreamcatcher Wellness Center to provide medical services to youth in their own space. Our clinic is youth informed, youth focused and was even named by the youth! Walking into our space, you’ll hear hype beats overhead and read, and you’ll see youth focused quotes on the walls by leaders like Nelson Mandela and Nas.

Having the clinic within the Dreamcatcher Wellness Center gives us a unique opportunity to provide health services to Oakland’s most vulnerable youth who access services at the Dreamcatcher youth shelter, those in Nika's place emergency shelter for girls affected by sexual exploitation, and MISSSEY, which is located next door. In addition to proving medical services to youth nearby, Dream Youth Clinic providers see all youth in the community between the ages of 12 and 24 years. We provide no cost or low cost medical services including birth control, sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing, pregnancy testing, prenatal care,  primary care, and mental health services.

This has truly been a labor of love and commitment to the youth of Oakland. Special thanks go out to Amba Johnson, Director of Dreamcatcher Youth Services and Dr. Noha Aboelata, CEO of Roots Community Health Center for their passion, collaboration, and support in making this vision a reality.

We’re open Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 1-5pm for appointments or drop-in care. Call for an appointment, drop-in to be seen, or share this information with a friend. Phone: 510-839-0929 x. 3.  Address: 583 5th Street, Suite A.

Health is pop culture.

Extra shout out: Youth ages 13-24, come out to our summer youth fair!

The Future Is Now. Saturday, July 14th 12-6pm.

Youth performances. Music. Live Art. Tech. Free Food. Giveaways. 

YTH Live 2018!

CAHC would like to give “kudos” to Tom Torlaksen and Sharla Smith of the CA Dept. of Education for prioritizing students' sexual health and relationships! Check out ASHWG for more information on inter-sectoral, statewide leadership in this area! 

Tom wrote in a recent YTH email:

For nearly 100 years, adults around the world have wrangled with the rights of young people. From the Declaration of the Rights of the Child to #MarchForOurLives, youth rights can no longer be kicked into the future. The time is now for adults to enshrine the idea of young people as rights-holding individuals. Their safety in this world is of critical importance, it is a human right and extends into their digital lives.
All too often, adults develop technology for young people, without considering how it might negatively impact their rights, their safety, and their freedoms. Recognizing the urgency of developing a rights-based approach to technology for youth, the opening plenary of YTH Live 2018 will amplify the voices of advocates who are leading these conversations at the national and global levels. We will hear about the work being done by youth leaders and civil liberty groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)George Hofstetter, and YTH's Youth Advisory Board, in fighting for the rights of young people in the digital world.

CAHC and many of our youth partners and adult allies will be at YTH Live 2018, with CHEA, H-REP, and Project PARTNER representing.

In fact, Project PARTNER will be presenting! Check out the presentation description below:

Engaging Youth in Research

Youth today are some of the most active avid users of technology, yet digital outreach and digital privacy still remains difficult for many healthcare providers and researchers. So why not streamline the process by involving youth and young adults alike? Come learn how speakers from the University of Pennsylvania and California Adolescent Health Collaborative are using new and on the ground research methods to engage youth users in the adoption of data collection and how these methods are shaping the way we use tech!

Will you be at YTH Live 2018? Let us know in the comments below!


Haven Women's Center Seeking H-REP Educators!


Haven Women's Center of Stanislaus is hiring for two positions that will be working with us on our H-REP program in the Central Valley:

Select skills required:

  • Passion for Youth Development
  • Experience working with youth and diverse populations
  • Effective small and large group facilitation skills
  • Efficient problem solving abilities
  • Computer literacy
  • Flexibility and creativity

Apply today! As noted on the Haven Women's Center of Stanislaus website:

A complete application package consists of the following:

  • Cover Letter

  • Application

  • Resume

A complete application package should be submitted to the appropriate program supervisor via that supervisors email or addressed to:

Haven Women's Center of Stanislaus
Attn: Sarah Beal, ARA Lead
618 13th Street
Modesto, CA 95354

Applications are routed to the supervisor of the position: that supervisor will schedule their own interviews. When submitting an application, you should specify the position for which you wish to be considered. If you wish to be considered for more than one position, please rank them clearly in the top right corner of your cover letter to ensure your application is processed according to your preferences.

Mobilization and Empowerment: Looking at Youth's Power of Change- Making in the Face of Tragedy

Robert Lee of CAHC describes the actions taken by student survivors in the aftermath of the February 14th Florida school shooting.

Today, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., return to school.

I do not want to focus on the tragedy that occurred February 14th, nor do I really want to get into the political debate of gun control. What I want to do is bring to your attention the power of youth. Like the mythic phoenix that rises from the ashes, youth reacting to a disaster can do amazing things. Youth are widely underestimated, deemed as not “experienced enough” “educated enough” or “articulate enough” to make ‘adult’ decisions. That is not the story of the student survivors of the Florida school shooting.

The tragedy that occurred on February 14th sparked a flame within the surviving students of Stoneman Douglas High, the school where the tragedy occurred.  They channeled their sadness, anger, and frustration into political activism. Just hours after the tragedy, students turned to social media to advocate for more gun control. They had started the #NeverAgain movement. They initially spread their message through Twitter using the main hashtag #NeverAgain and supporting hashtags of #BanAssaultWeapons and #GunControlNow.  They implored other youth throughout the country to get involved in the cause, using the hashtags #StudentsStandUp and #StudentsWalkOut. The response was positive, and the flame spread, the youth of America unified their voice.

But they didn’t stop there. With the flame raging into a fire, the students sought to confront law-makers face-to-face about Florida’s gun control policies. On Tuesday, February 20th, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mobilized and traveled to Florida’s state capitol in Tallahassee. They marched to the capitol building, rallied on the capitol steps, and spoke with their legislators. They called on all representatives to move House Bill 219 (assault weapons ban) from committees to the House Floor for “questions, debate, and a vote.”  They spoke eloquently. They spoke passionately. They spoke with true conviction. But like the second act in every play, the outcome was bleak. The call was rejected, the ban would have to wait until after the next regular session.

However, the movement did not stop; I repeat, the movement did not stop. Like any powerful fires, their fire didn’t go out, but rather it grew. It grew into a bonfire. Students throughout America, from coast to coast, from California to Florida, are protesting Florida’s rejection by organizing school walk-outs. This unified action has gotten the nation’s attention, shining a bright light on the inspiring drive and motivation propelling today’s youth forward.

Currently, youth survivors and adult allies are organizing a rally, appropriately named, “March For Our Lives,” scheduled to take place on March 24th, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (The Twitter hashtag, #MarchForOurLives showcases their plans.) They are reaching out far and wide, even promoting the march on CNN and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The rally is expected to have “sister marches” in other major cities throughout the country. I feel that as a member of the public health community and facilitator of youth leadership, it is my responsibility to stand with them. (If you are an American Public Health Association- APHA- member like myself, go to the APHA website to find APHA statements on gun violence and how to support youth activism.)

I, for one, will be watching, marching, supporting, and applauding the courage these young people have. I hope they continue to burn bright and soar on the wings of the phoenix.