The Community Engagement and Outreach Core (CEO Core) is pleased to announce the Cohort 4 awardees of the Louisiana Community Scholars Program: 

Tyra Gross
Tyra Gross, PhD
Xavier University

Malaika Ludman
Malaika Ludman, MPH — New Orleans Breastfeeding Center

Project title: “Evaluating Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies (IYCFE) Support in a Low Breastfeeding Population”

The New Orleans Breastfeeding Center (NOBC) mounted an emergency response to support pregnant and parenting people with children under 2 years affected by Hurricane Laura beginning on August 26, 2020. Hurricane Laura occurred around the same time as a resurgence of COVID-19 infections in Louisiana. According to the international literature on infant and young child feeding in emergencies (IYCFE), breastmilk is the cleanest, safest food for infants in emergencies (AAP 2015). NOBC’s Infant Ready program promotes breastfeeding as the safest feeding option in emergencies through training, educational materials, and distribution of emergency infant feeding kits. During our initial Hurricane Laura emergency response, however, we noted very low rates of breastfeeding among the evacuee population. This drove us to readapt our response. In Louisiana, only 21.8% of infants are breastfeeding exclusively at 6 months (CDC 2020) and in rural areas, breastfeeding rates are generally lower than in the larger population (CDC 2020).

The goal of this proposal is to determine how to support IYCFE in populations with low breastfeeding rates. Our research seeks to accomplish the following specific aims:

  • To assess the profiles of resource-seeking pregnant and parenting families with children under 2 years that evacuate to state-run shelters following disasters like Hurricane Laura (RQ1)
  • To understand the factors that make people mutually vulnerable to not breastfeeding and also to natural disasters (RQ2)
  • To identify family-centered supports needed to respond to populations with low breastfeeding rates in an emergency (RQ3)

Margarita Echeverri
Margarita Echeverri, PhD
Xavier University

Mariana Montero
Mariana Montero, MBA, MSc
Golden Change, Inc.

Project titleEmpowering Me: An educational initiative addressing domestic violence during COVID-19

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is one of the most common forms of violence against women and includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and controlling behaviors by an intimate partner. In 2019, Louisiana ranked 2nd in the nation (twice the national average) for the number of women killed by men and it is estimated that 33.4% of Louisiana women (34.4% of Hispanics) experience intimate partner physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Although impacts to victims include adverse physical and mental health, ranging from minor injuries to serious conditions, the presence of IPV in the home has also a profound impact on families. The increase in levels of violence occurring in the home, from the ongoing social and human devastation brought by the COVID19, has been considered a “new pandemic within the COVID19 pandemic”. This is an interventional, cross-sectional, research study that uses community-based participation research (CBPR) strategies to address the following aims: 1) revamp the Empowering Me program offered by Golden Change, Inc., to focus on socio-cultural Latino traditions and the impact of COVID19 restrictions that may increase IPV incidents, and the mental health consequences of unemployment, economic hardships, the closing of schools, and general uncertainty that may result in more family conflicts and violence; 2) pilot-test the program with a group of Latino women suffering IPV, and 3) develop and implement an assessment strategy to measure the program outcomes (increase of empowerment and decrease in mistreatment, abuse and depression). Assessing the outcomes of the Empowering Me program, using CBPR methods, will advance knowledge on the applicability and effectiveness of empowering interventions in community-based settings.

Keith Ferdinand
Keith Ferdinand, MD
Tulane University School of Medicine

Daphne Ferdinand
Daphne Ferdinand, PhD, RN
Healthy Heart Community Prevention Project, Inc.

Project title: “Simple Text-Messaging And Social Support to Increase Hypertension Medication Adherence in New Orleans, LA (TEXT MY MEDS NOLA)”

Our project aims to address utilization of digital technology, particularly targeted text messaging, to increase medication adherence for common cardiovascular diseases during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this project, text messaging, an effective form of simple and personalized communication, serves as an intervention for patients, and caretakers, with limited access to pharmacies to connect to participating pharmacy and pharmacist. Through this intervention, digital technology can be used effectively to coordinate patient care via telehealth visits and medication adherence through daily text reminders and message alerts for refilling prescriptions.

Therefore, this pilot project aims to utilize simple digital approaches, particularly recurring text-messaging system, in conjunction with a social support network, to improve medication adherence in high-risk patients to better manage CVD via two mechanisms:

  1. Establish automated text-messaging systems to address multifactorial approaches to antihypertensive medication adherence and hypertension management through interdisciplinary communication between physicians, community health partners, and pharmacists.
  2. Incorporate and emphasize the role of social support, in conjunction with text-messaging systems, in helping patients manage multiple health conditions and risk factors, address individual barriers to care, and increase health seeking behaviors from the medical community.

Chelsea Kracht
Chelsea Kracht, PhD
Pennington Biomedical Research Center

Michelle Grantham-Caston
Michelle Grantham-Caston, PhD
LSU Early Childhood Education Lab

Project title: “Modification of Early Childhood Education Center’s Outdoor Setting for Toddler Health”

This project aims to identify inexpensive and evidence-based modifications to the outdoor setting in childcare centers to reduce this disparity and promote toddler health. This study could inform the design of health-promoting outdoor settings across the country.


All awardee teams include an Academic PI and a Community PI as well as other assisting partners and will work towards improving these health disparities over the course of a year, through the LA CoSP (LA CaTS Community Scholars Program) pilot funding. Awardee teams complete didactic training components, receive CBPR mentorship, and are scheduled to complete their projects in June 2022. 

The purpose of LA CoSP is to increase the capacity of community-academic partners to conduct community-engaged research with mutual ownership of the processes and products, with the ultimate goal of improving the health of residents of Louisiana and the nation. LA CoSP aims to promote collaboration and trusted partnership between community-based organizations addressing health disparities and translational researchers within LA CaTS, and to provide opportunities for community-academic partners to stimulate subsequent research funding, projects and peer-reviewed publications.

For more information on the LA CaTS Community Scholars Program, click here or contact us a