In the previous part of this post we talked about some of the principles of working with residents in multi-family housing for successful pest control.
One of the keys to success is preventing a feeling of disconnect between the residents and the housing management, professional contractors and external trainers. A mutual lack of trust and miscommunication can cause the failure of any new program or initiative. In many cases, because we learn best from our friends and people we relate to, peer-to-peer education and outreach can be a very helpful tool. However, there needs to be some interest and willingness within the community.
But what does peer education actually mean? It is basically teaching or more informal sharing of information, values and behavior with other peers — who typically share similar social or cultural backgrounds and life experiences. Sometimes the information a resident receives on pest control and housekeeping is better received and trusted when it comes from a known neighbor, rather than housing staff.
These shared background and experience are a key point! They’re the reason behind, and the basis for this whole model. Peer educators are often familiar with the knowledge gaps, concerns and preferred learning styles of their peers. They can also motivate others by using a familiar language, or slang, or calling upon a shared situation.
The role of peer educators in a multi-family housing setting is to be the ‘bridge’ between residents and management (including staff, as well as external professionals), and be a resource to their neighbors. They work with staff and others to correct misconceptions and misinformation, provide new information through various means and formats, help tenants think through decisions and actions, and come up with better options for how to respond to different issues or situations. They can also play an important role in connecting and referring people to the proper resources, services and organizations.
In some programs, there may be paid positions for peer educators and community advocates, while in others they’re set up as volunteer positions, or through resident councils. Whatever the case, the goal is to provide the educators with relevant and updated information (on resources, support services and more) and the necessary tools to help their fellow neighbors. Such tools may include, for instance, instructional or educational training, which —if done correctly— can increase their effectiveness without affecting their natural ability to connect with others.
Having said that, if and when possible, let peer educators organize and implement activities or initiatives of their own — a feeling of pride and ownership can make peer educators an extremely valuable asset!
So what makes for a good peer educator? Desired qualities and skills may include: enthusiastic, inclusive, self-confident, respectful, open heart and minded, motivated, trusting, well-organized, positive, etc. And certainly empathy! Identifying the needs of others and knowing when not to interfere are key strengths for this kind of work.
To wrap up, I’d like to share an example of a housing program that successfully implemented IPM interventions with the help of peer educators:
“In partnership, the Boston Public Health Commission, the Boston Housing Authority (BHA), Boston University School of Public Health, the Committee for Boston Public Housing, and the West Broadway Task Force (WBTF) led an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) intervention in Boston’s public housing developments. Key to the success of the program was recruiting residents to participate.
Residents who were trained as Community Health Advocates (CHAs) at the West Broadway Development in South Boston, Massachusetts, recruited over 300 homes, the highest recruitment rate among the 15 BHA developments targeted for the IPM intervention.
… As residents, CHAs were able to recruit better than outsiders because they knew the living conditions and the culture, and could help residents in practical ways.”
These community advocates also used different topics and issues that were relevant to residents to help them build relationships and open communication lines:
“Addressing topics that are on their radar is a way to build trust, and to get a foot in the door. Then people remember CHAs as women who work for the task force and have health information. Residents who were not initially interested in IPM often had other interests or concerns.”
This program resulted in high recruitment rates, effective IPM intervention in a large portion of participating developments and households, residents feeling more confident in themselves and more comfortable discussing pest infestations, while at the same time empowering the resident educators. Read more about it here.
To learn more about employing residents in IPM programs, visit http://www.stoppests.org/working-with-residents/getting-help/employing-residents-in-ipm-programs/