At community luncheon, UAB MHRC honors two for service

Helen Shores Lee and Joanice Thompson honored for community service by UAB’s Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center (MHRC) held a community-appreciation luncheon on Aug. 6, 2013, to recognize community members involved in the center’s outreach.

Community leaders and members were welcomed by UAB President Ray L. Watts, who said the event symbolizes UAB’s longtime partnership with the community toward better education, health care and economic development.

“This partnership grows ever stronger as UAB develops a new strategic plan that will make us one of the most dynamic and productive universities of the 21st century,” he said.

“Many members of the Birmingham community have played a vital role in the success of the MHRC, particularly with local outreach efforts that have touched thousands of lives,” said Mona Fouad, director of the MHRC and the UAB Division of Preventive Medicine. “We are grateful for these partnerships, and we are showing our appreciation by hosting this luncheon to recognize individuals and companies for their service.”

During the luncheon, Judge Helen Shores Lee, a longtime supporter and chair of the center’s advisory council, was presented the first UAB MHRC Community Leadership Award. Lee was honored for her dedication, not only to the MHRC, but also to many other community-service organizations to which she has devoted her time, including serving on the boards of the American Red Cross, Campfire Inc. and United Cerebral Palsy.

“As a child, I learned from my parents the importance of giving back to the community,” Lee said. “As an adult, I have found that giving of your time and service can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life. If I am to promote the welfare of my community and make my city a better place to live, I must get involved and give of my time, my service and myself for the benefit of others. This is the model I follow in my professional career and personal life.”

Lee was appointed circuit judge of the 10th Judicial Court of Alabama in January 2003. She became the first African-American woman to serve in the Civil Division of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County.

Also at the luncheon, the first UAB MHRC Helen Shores Lee Community Service Award was presented to Joanice Thompson, MHRC associate director for community relations. Thompson came to UAB in 1986 as research interviewer for a cardiovascular trial that had to enroll a large number of white and black participants. She soon experienced first-hand the challenge of engaging people in research. She quickly recognized the importance of developing trusting relationships in the community and set about working to this end. As manager of the UAB Recruitment and Retention Shared Facility, Thompson went on to lead successful recruitment efforts for many clinical trials, including the Women's Health Trial, Women's Health Initiative and the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial.

In more recent years, as the MHRC associate director for community outreach, Thompson understood the power of community engagement for addressing the health needs of the community and eliminating health disparities. She has developed partnerships with local, state and national organizations, and she was instrumental in the ability of the MHRC to serve more than 100,000 people during the past 10 years.

“I see the MHRC as a point of entry to the resources available at UAB,” Thompson said. “And you know, UAB sits in the heart of so many underserved communities, it is a blessing to be able to have a huge impact on the health of thousands of people.”

The MHRC’s outreach programs include community health advisors who go door to door, taking health-care information to the people who need it most; after-school programs that teach children how eating and exercise affect their health; community walk teams, with more than 3,600 members dedicated to exercising to promote better health; and health-education and promotion programs that have helped more than 60,000 people in 12 Alabama counties learn about making healthy lifestyle choices.

“We have spent the past 10 years taking a grassroots approach to educating citizens in the most affected communities about preventing obesity, cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, infant mortality and taking up immunizations,” Fouad said. “But there are many more communities that need our help, and our supporters like Judge Lee and Joanice are key to reaching these communities.”