Helping Affect Real Change in Lower Price Hill

UC professor and counseling students lead community teaching efforts, empower residents

In Cincinnati, much has been written and reported about the Lower Price Hill neighborhood. Like many areas and towns, it strives to provide a safe, diverse, and vibrant community for its residents. And like many areas the heavy problem of drug abuse weighs on many and casts a shadow that individuals in the community and outside are working diligently to brighten. 

One person who has been instrumental in securing funding and developing programs to help address and stem drug abuse in the area is UC’s School of Human Services’ Michael Brubaker, PhD. Brubaker is an Assistant Professor and the Counseling Program Coordinator at UC. Licensed to practice chemical dependency counseling in Ohio, he is also a Nationally Certified Counselor. Brubaker’s involvement started about four years ago with the Urban Appalachian Council, which was engaged in social service work and research in the Lower Price Hill neighborhood. Brubaker was able to fill a critical need for expertise and resources in the area of substance abuse counseling.

After developing a grant through Cincinnati’s Interact for Health – an independent nonprofit that serves 20 counties in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana – Brubaker helped rebuild a coalition in Lower Price Hill and conducted assessments to better understand the issues plaguing the neighborhood as well as the community’s strengths, which may be mobilized to address these challenges.

“We interviewed a wide range of people in the community – those suffering from addiction and those who were not – to understand what was happening with opioid abuse,” said Brubaker. “We also did a strength-based assessment and conducted research and presented the findings to the community to increase awareness of the dynamics and help make a difference.”

Through research, education, advocacy, and action, Brubaker and many others involved in the community, were able to develop the Lower Price Hill Caring Connections organization. It began as a coalition of community members, agencies, churches, and schools to prevent substance abuse and related problems in the Lower Price Hill community. The group strives to improve the health of and reduce substance abuse among Lower Price Hill residents through education, changing norms, and providing resources and programs.

“Many longtime community members stood behind [the coalition] to try and help; they bring an amazing sense of history and culture to the work that’s being done,” said Brubaker. “There are a lot of deep and familial connections to the community.”

Through this work, Brubaker and others realized that there weren’t individuals trained in substance abuse prevention in the area – and a training program could be instrumental in providing community members with the education and experience needed to help fellow neighbors and residents. As a result, Brubaker and some of his counseling students developed an Immersive Prevention Training experience to draw out the unwavering strength and desire of many residents looking to help.

One student, Steve Patrick, who is earning his EdD in counselor education, helped design the program and its curriculum and served as a lead instructor, giving him real world experience.

“The course not only offered an opportunity to community members to get credentialing towards certification as substance abuse prevention specialists, but also helped wake up something within residents to be a greater force and be empowered to engage their community in a different way,” said Patrick.

While developing the curriculum for the course, Patrick made sure to triangulate it with state requirements and resources and, ultimately, created a program that culminates with students of the course providing service to their fellow community members in need. Under supervision, graduates of the course are able to provide services associated with substance abuse prevention. They can also serve as content experts in different areas, educating professionals and other community members on the risks and protective factors associated with problem substance use.

Similar to grassroots efforts in the political arena, community members are able to reach out and offer “boots on the ground” to get a better understanding of what is and isn’t working to help improve services.

This kind of engagement and work is important because  Brubaker, UC students, partners, and the Coalition are not only striving to eliminate problem usage but also   activating existing strengths of the community and helping people build  their confidence, faith in themselves, and solid support systems.

For students like Patrick and mental health counseling masters student Jordan Pangallo, it’s an apt account of the work they’ll do upon graduation when they enter communities like this across Ohio and the nation seeking to lessen the grip that drug abuse has on some communities.

In Lower Price Hill through the prevention training course, four community members completed 45 hours of prevention training to be applied toward certification as substance abuse prevention specialists. Patrick said students of the course also grew “an immeasurable amount” and were able to grow professionally and academically while becoming empowered to help their community.  

Additionally, students spent 100 hours in the community doing prevention activities with schools, churches, and other organizations.

Pangallo helped with the data analyses to help understand the complex and multifaceted issue of why some individuals became addicted while others did not.

“Working on this project confirmed for me what I had thought about the Lower Price Hill area: they are a resilient community and despite the many issues that have developed, they are working to improve their community,” said Pangallo. “I have a passion for helping those who go down the path of substance abuse, and the community continues to do so much to help – we’re just there to provide additional support and resources.”