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Students canvass Baltimore housing projects to deliver asthma, smoking cessation information

About 50 students from Philadelphia gathered Saturday in East Baltimore to canvass public housing projects and spread information about asthma and smoking cessation programs in the city.

The students, members of the national Christian organization Cru, visited residents inDouglas, Perkins and Latrobe homes. They offered pamphlets detailing the Community Asthma Program, a free program of the Baltimore City Health Department, and a Johns Hopkins Hospital smoking cessation pilot program.

The effort is aimed at sharing programs with residents that would improve families’ health by reducing asthma triggers, including smoking.

Escorted by Baltimore City Housing Authority employees, the students peeled off in groups of five or six to knock on doors, looking for families with children.

Korey Perrin, Douglas Homes Tenant Council president, accompanied a small group of students through her court in the Douglas Homes development, where many doors they tried were unanswered. Still, Perrin said she hoped the pamphlets they slipped into mail slots proved to be helpful.

“Some of my tenants do have asthma; some of their kids suffer with asthma and we’re trying our best to get these programs for these people so it can be better for them and so their kids can be healthy,” she said. “Hopefully this will get them a better idea to stop smoking and be healthy.”

Children ages 1 to 18 are eligible for the health department’s asthma program, which provides resources to help families reduce asthma triggers in their homes. Children must have at least four days or one night with asthma symptoms, or a hospitalization due to asthma to be eligible for the program.

If families qualify, health department employees will inspect their homes for asthma triggers and provide free supplies — including cleaning products, pillow and mattress covers and vacuums — to help combat asthma symptoms. The health department also works with families to manage pests because rodent droppings, roaches and other vermin can worsen asthma.

Maria Bacoat, a program assistant for the health department’s asthma program, estimated it sees about 300 children a year.

In addition to brochures with information about the asthma program, the volunteers also handed out fliers asking whether residents wanted to make a New Year’s resolution to quit smoking, with contact information for staff at Johns Hopkins Hospital who could help. Cassia Lewis-Land, a program manager for Hopkins, said the pilot program is part of an effort by the hospital to build a stronger relationship with its surrounding community.

“This is one of the ways that we want to reach out and show that we care about them,” she told students at an orientation before the canvassing began.

The students canvassing, primarily from Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University, were among more than 1,000 attending the Cru Winter Conference in Baltimore from Friday through Tuesday.

“I just think it’s important to promote programs like these in lower-income neighborhoods because a lot of people aren’t knowledgeable of the services they need because of the neighborhood they live in,” said Jonah Steiner, a freshman at Drexel. “It’s important to get the word out so they know.”

Andy Young, the city director for Cru in Philadelphia, said the students were willing to help however Baltimore needed them.

“The Baltimore team’s hope is to bless the city in whatever ways the leaders here feel is helpful,” he said. “We’re trying to be part of bringing an abundant life to people.”

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City plans to host similar canvassing events at other public housing projects, said Ken Strong, a special assistant for the agency. He expects future events would require a substantial volunteer effort, too.

smeehan@baltsun.com

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