Meeting Members Where They Are: Crossroads4Hope’s Outreach to Vulnerable Populations

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New Jersey based Crossroads4Hope: A Network of Cancer Support has been addressing health disparities faced by vulnerable communities through a wide array of community partnerships. In response, Crossroads4Hope has developed a whole community, person and family centered approach to offering social and emotional support to people with cancer and their loved ones.

Crossroads4Hope: A Network of Cancer Support

"Not everyone sees cancer through the same lens. Individuals come to a diagnosis from a lifetime of experiences that frame their cancer journey; these experiences in vulnerable and diverse communities have been underrepresented in clinical research for generations," Amy Sutton, CEO

The COVID-19 crisis has shed a light on health disparities in vulnerable communities, a challenge that New Jersey based Crossroads4Hope: A Network of Cancer Support has been addressing through a wide array of community partnerships. The organization has seen first-hand the challenges faced by people who are vulnerable because of factors including race, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, income, or life experience. In response, Crossroads4Hope has developed a whole community, person and family centered approach to offering social and emotional support to people with cancer and their loved ones.

“Not everyone sees cancer through the same lens. Individuals come to a diagnosis from a lifetime of experiences that frame their cancer journey; these experiences in vulnerable and diverse communities have been underrepresented in clinical research for generations,” says Amy Sutton, CEO of Crossroads4Hope. “As a result, these unique voices are underrepresented in the development of new therapies and treatments, and many people don’t have access to the latest care options that can save their lives or reduce the burden of cancer on themselves, their families, and their communities.”

“So,” Sutton adds, “most of all, we listen. From our meetings with community leaders, medical professionals, and public health officials, as well as listening sessions with community members, the message is clear and consistent: mistrust, fear, cultural barriers, lack of care coordination, and inadequate health literacy are the main reasons traditionally vulnerable patients who are at risk for, or who have, cancer do not seek the care and support they need.”

Crossroads4Hope’s programs utilize the expertise of three allied health professions: public health, social work, and child life. Public health interns and staff complete searches of clinical literature to identify the demographics and health disparities in different communities regionally, as well as nationwide trends and statistics. Social workers develop culturally humble outreach plans with community partners based on the specific needs of that community. Child life specialists provide developmentally-appropriate support for the children, teens, and families impacted by the disease, both directly with families and in schools.

The organization’s interdisciplinary team identifies trusted organizations within vulnerable communities to build relationships and partnerships, through which tailored Crossroads4Hope programs and services can be implemented with the goal of activating individuals and vulnerable communities; reducing health disparities; increasing access to timely care; and improving quality of life and health outcomes.

“Our approach is grounded in social work and social justice. We seek to develop a deep understanding of the cultural norms, beliefs, and behaviors of each diverse community in order to avoid stereotypes, assumptions, and generalizations,” says Sutton. “We are operationalizing what we are learning, which has prepared our team to create a safe space and programming that meet the needs of the whole community.”

“Individuals and families in our communities are suffering due to lack of resources and representation; transportation issues; language and socioeconomic barriers; and stigma,” says Katherine Schaible, LSW, Program Director at Crossroads4Hope. “Our goal is to provide culturally humble social and emotional support in trusted sites such as schools, places of worship, and other gathering places within these vulnerable communities.”

One specific example of this customized outreach is Crossroads4Hope’s Gladiator Program. This initiative seeks to empower and activate church members in the Black community to address non-clinical barriers to care. As a result of feedback gathered from literature reviews and outreach, an expressed need surfaced for information on oncology screening, treatment, and clinical trials that is uniquely tailored for relevance within the Black community. Crossroads4Hope is partnering with Calvary Baptist Church in Plainfield for this important project and plans to expand the initiative throughout New Jersey.

Utilizing a systems approach to change, characterized by relationship building and continued programmatic intervention at the local level, Crossroads4Hope is focused on activating these communities and the people affected by cancer by normalizing discussions around the disease; delivering monthly psychosocial interventions and programs with cultural awareness and respect; and connecting patients, families, and loved ones in a timely way to cancer resources and support.

“Crossroads4Hope has developed its Outreach and Education program within the framework of our traditional offerings, which we are expanding, because it is critical to offer a robust combination of both culturally specific and more generalized information to provide all of our members with the information they need,” concludes Schaible.

To learn more about Crossroads4Hope, visit crossroads4hope.org or call 908-658-5400.

About Crossroads4Hope:
Crossroads4Hope was founded as an independent 501(c)(3) in 2002 by four women who believed that people with cancer and their families deserved professionally led, community-based social and emotional support, education, and resources throughout their cancer journeys. Since 2004, more than 15,500 people have accessed Crossroads4Hope, resulting in 84,000 visits and over 100,000 hours of programming delivered, always offered at no charge. Crossroads4Hope’s network of support embraces all people touched by cancer—the diagnosed and their loved ones—providing access to resources and evidence-based programs of support, education, wellbeing, and hope. Crossroads4Hope is committed to upholding the dignity of all people through cultural humility and respect for gender identification, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and income difference. Our vision is to be THE safe space to turn first when you are affected by cancer to restore your whole being and family.

https://crossroads4hope.org/

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Kristen Lefkus
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