April Durr knows Alamance County like the back of her hand, even though she was raised on Long Island. That familiarity comes from volunteering as a community service worker since her days as an undergraduate at Elon University and continuing for the next decade as a professional.
“My biggest passion is working on social and health disparities at the community level,” Durr said.
It’s no wonder then that she also is passionate about what she believes is needed to make health care more accessible, especially to the poor, youth and elderly populations – public transportation. Burlington is the largest city in North Carolina without a public transportation system, and Durr and her comrades at FAST (Friends & Advocates for Sustainable Transportation) believe this presents a significant barrier to accessing important health care services.
As director of Healthy Alamance, it is Durr’s job to know what Burlington needs, as well as other municipalities in widespread Alamance County. The nonprofit organization she leads conducts a comprehensive community assessment every four years, the results of which determine what four health issues and four social issues her organization and others will address.
The 2011 assessment is in and Durr is rolling up her sleeves to tackle access to health care, mental health, substance abuse, obesity, education, poverty, homelessness and domestic violence. It’s a tall order, but she doesn’t work alone. The United Way uses results of the assessment to drive its grant cycle. A host of other community organizations work in tandem as well, making sure their programs align with these mutual goals. Her organization is affiliated with the Alamance Regional Medical Center and Alamance County Health Department.
Thus, Durr is a consensus builder. She brings together leaders and grassroots organizations to coalesce around issues important to the community. This attribute also makes her an ideal leader of the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute Community Advisory Board (CAB) for the Greensboro Area Health Education Center area, spanning eight counties in central North Carolina.
NC TraCS is UNC’s home to its NIH Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) and one of a consortium of 60 such institutions nationwide. Its task is to accelerate the pace of biomedical research and engage communities on their needs while also disseminating the results of research at the community level.
“Our role on the CAB has been to be a bridge between the grantees [those performing academic research] and the community, as well as work with people at NC TraCS who are developing requests for proposals and applying for the next round of funding,” said Durr, who has served as the chairperson for a number of years.
The CAB meets quarterly for briefings about ongoing research in the community and to provide recommendations to researchers about how to be more effective partners when they conduct community-based research. As Durr explained, the CAB not only includes representatives from each of the eight counties, but also a good cross-section of the community, such as social work, healthcare, local government, nonprofit and business.
Another large project Durr has dedicated herself to is North Park in Motion (NPIM), an effort to revitalize a community park in East Burlington. The project began through Health & Wellness Trust Funding, called the FIT Community Grant, and then continued with funding from the City of Burlington and partnerships developed from the grant process. The state will soon publish results of the program as a success story for other communities to emulate. Though it started small, the project has grown into an entire movement for creating positive change in an area that has struggled.
Briefly, NPIM involved capital improvements of a community park and community center. However, it went beyond better lighting and playground equipment. Through consensus building among community members, it has revitalized an area and created a positive meeting place encouraging healthy lifestyle habits and fun interactions. Now citizens of that area congregate for dance lessons and other activities, as well as to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from farmers who bring trucks on-site. Through a Facebook page, citizens exchange information and rally around efforts to get that fixed-route bus transportation Durr is championing.
Durr’s work has not gone unnoticed. Her alma mater, Elon University, recently honored this 2001 graduate with a “Top 10 Under 10” award for her success as well as her continued volunteer work with the university. She mentors students, serves on several advisory boards and supports several nonprofits as a donor and volunteer, such as Guilford Green Foundation and CrossRoads Sexual Assault Response & Resource Center. In what spare time is left, she enjoys salsa dancing, cooking, helping with the "Friends of John Coltrane Jazz Festival" as well as jogging.
As Durr looks to the horizon she says she is considering graduate school. To take the work she is doing to the next level, she says she thinks the next step is working on a master’s degree.