Project REACH 2023-24 cohort members

Project REACH 2023-24 cohort aims to advance health equity, access to mental health services, and address racial/cultural disparities for rural communities

John Merritt

Four community leaders from rural Minnesota have been selected as the 2023-2024 cohort for Project REACH (Rural Experts Advancing Community Health), a joint initiative of the University of Minnesota Rural Health Program through the Office of Academic Clinical Affairs and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

Project REACH is a year-long program that provides diverse community leaders in rural Minnesota with health policy and leadership training. Participants learn to frame health policy challenges and how to communicate effectively with state legislators and other policymakers. Participants identify local challenges, build leadership skills to address the challenge, and develop and share a policy proposal with relevant decision makers. Throughout the program, participants will have access to mentorship from University of Minnesota faculty and staff. Travel expenses for training, meetings, and program materials will be covered. Participants receive a $1,200 stipend and a certificate of completion upon the end of the program.

Fatuma Youb is a public health and equity practitioner who serves as a coordinator with Minnesota Health Equity Networks for the Minnesota Department of Health. As a coordinator, Fatuma is developing and convening a regional equity network, which brings together cross-jurisdictional partners, including local public health, tribal, community partners, and others, to support an equitable response and consistent commitment to advancing health equity across the public health system.

Fatuma completed her master's in public health from Touro University of California in 2018. Fatuma has worked with rural, low-income, and racially diverse partners, both locally and internationally.
Through Project REACH, Fatuma will work to impact policies related to transportation access services in Cass County. Fatuma is excited to advance health equity in the public health system and consistently ensure that all communities in central Minnesota experience equitable benefits.

Ana Garza is a bilingual community health worker and medical assistant who has been in the health care field for over eight years. She works in rural communities in public health and is dedicated to helping rural Minnesotans empower themselves to live their healthiest lives. Throughout her work, Ana has gained a tremendous understanding of advocacy and the needs of her community, and has served as a voice for those unable to advocate for their own health care and social needs.

Ana is passionate about improving community health by looking at health inequities, analyzing data, and finding solutions to improve the health of all, especially the Hispanic/Latino community. She aims to provide health education through culturally appropriate literature and encourage community members to advocate for their health, education, and social needs. She volunteers at Free Clinic and has been trained in adverse childhood experiences to promote mental health and wellbeing and to increase awareness of social determinants of health. Ana received her Associate of Applied Science degree in medical assistance and a certificate as a community health worker.

Through Project REACH, Ana will work to impact policies related to access to health care, mental health services, and resources in Nicollet County.

Shelly Muñoz, an education consultant for Sourcewell in Region 5 Central Minnesota, has a wealth of experience in the classroom, with over 25 years under her belt. She is especially passionate about science and STEM education, advocating for equitable opportunities for all students to find their voice in STEM and supporting initiatives that enable young people to achieve what they once thought was impossible.

Shelly holds a Master of Science degree from California Baptist University and is deeply committed to addressing the mental health needs of individuals in rural communities. As part of her work with Project REACH, she is dedicated to raising awareness, advocacy, and education around mental health issues in the community, with a particular emphasis on men's mental health. Her primary objective through this project is to effect positive change in mental health policies and ensure that everyone has access to the resources and tools they need to support their mental wellbeing.

Ben Cahill, a 25-year-old from Washington State, has made the Midwest his home for the past six years. Ben has actively engaged with the LGBTQ2S+ community in Bemidji, Minnesota since 2017. 
In 2021, Ben assisted in the creation of Pride Support Network, an organization whose mission is to empower and connect LGBTQiA2S+ individuals by providing culturally relevant resources, programs, and support groups. The organization continues its valuable work throughout the year, facilitating LGBTQ2S+ initiatives and community outreach. 
In addition to his involvement in the LGBTQ2S+ community, Ben works as a community health worker. In this role, he assists individuals in navigating health care and social service systems, provides health education, and helps to address community member needs by connecting them to local organizations with appropriate resources and programs. Ben hopes to improve the social determinants of health and address racial/cultural disparities, especially for LGBTQ2S+ and indigenous communities.