Research informs action, but the challenge is its translation into practice. The 2012–2017 National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Strategic Plan emphasizes partnership with community stakeholders to capture critical missing information about the effects of environment on health and to improve translation of study results, a daunting task for many traditionally-trained researchers. To better understand economic and neighborhood context consistent with these goals as well as existing inequities, we needed access to a highly affected community to inform and participate in our research. Our team therefore undertook a PhotoVoice project as a first step in establishing a participatory partnership and to appreciate the lived experiences of and build trust with youth visiting an urban community center in a high-risk, low-income, African American neighborhood located along a busy, polluted interstate. Ten 8–13 years-olds represented their community’s perspectives through photographs over 14-weeks using structured questioning. Five themes emerged: poor eating habits/inadequate nutrition; safety/violence; family/friends/community support; future hopes/dreams; and garbage/environment. Public viewings of the photos/captions facilitated engagement of other community agencies and multidisciplinary academic faculties to work together to build a sustainable “community collaboratory” that will promote health at the center by providing families knowledge/skills to prevent/minimize environmental exposures via diet/lifestyle changes using community-engaged, citizen scientist and systems thinking approaches.
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