Street wise

Street wise

HealthStreet combines research, service for community

 By Mina Radman
Lakeshia Hobdy, a community health worker with HealthStreet, talks with Ronnie Boykin./Photo by Jesse S. Jones

Lakeshia Hobdy, a community health worker with HealthStreet, talks with Ronnie Boykin./Photo by Jesse S. Jones

Elta Desvariste, 22, has been interning at HealthStreet for three months.

The health science senior spends her days reaching out to the community to share information about medical and social services at HealthStreet and in the community. She also conducts health assessments with community members both in the community and at HealthStreet. A few weeks ago, a homeless woman thanked Desvariste for sharing information she wouldn’t have otherwise learned.

“Knowing that I’m able to help her makes this a great experience,” Desvariste said.

HealthStreet, led by Linda Cottler, Ph.D., M.P.H., chair of the department of epidemiology in the colleges of Medicine and Public Health and Health Professions, is a community-based effort that assesses health conditions and needs of the community and, based on those needs and concerns, offers services and referrals to social and medical services. HealthStreet also works to reduce disparities in health research by linking people to health studies, matched to their needs and concerns.

On April 5, HealthStreet won a UF Champion for Change award. UF President Bernie Machen and his wife, Chris, presented the honor, given for championing community engagement efforts for social equity, at the university’s Earth Day celebration.

The program’s community health workers visit people at laundromats, grocery stores, bus stops and other places in Alachua County daily to speak with residents about their health and needs. They conduct 15-minute health assessments, asking about their health history, and top health and neighborhood concerns.

The HealthStreet office, located at 2401 SW Archer Road, offers a clothing closet, toiletry pantry, HIV testing, educational classes and blood pressure checks as well as other services.

HealthStreet follows the model of a program Cottler started in St. Louis in 1989. She began the program at UF in November 2011, when she came to Gainesville to head the epidemiology department. HealthStreet has begun providing services in Jacksonville, and is now underway in Sydney, Australia, too.

“With this model, we are learning more about how to help the community, and what needs they have,” Cottler said. “What we find out from research we try to share with the community. Through this program, we try to build trust with the community.”

To find out more about HealthStreet, visit