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The Catalyst

Family Fund provides $2,500 to Empowerr program

By Ashley Barker
Public Relations

Carla Kmett Danielson, Ph.D., has learned a thing or two about how to get high-risk adolescents to stick around for a lesson on HIV prevention. Lesson one: provide food; lesson two: make them earn “swag.”

Empowerr team members get together for a recent retreat. From left: Dr. Ben Saunders, Dr. Andrea Jones, Paige Green, Dr. Jenna McCauley, Dr. Carla Kmett Danielson, April Borkman and Dr. Ken Ruggeiro. 

Danielson is the director of the Empowerr (Ethnic Minority Preventative Outreach and Web-Based Education for Risk Reduction) program and is an associate professor in the MUSC Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences’ National Crime Victims Research & Treatment Center.

Her research and clinical expertise involves traumatized adolescents who engage in risky behaviors. When she found out in October of 2008 that South Carolina was nationally ranked in the top 10 for HIV prevalence, Danielson applied for a grant with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to begin the Empowerr program.

The team — which includes MUSC faculty Drs. Ben Saunders, Jenna McCauley, Michael de Arellano, Alyssa Rheingold, Ken Ruggiero, Tatiana Davidson, and Jan Key, and coordinator April Borkman — delivers evidence-based risk reduction programming to over 250 minority youth in Charleston County.

Through a collaboration with Lowcounty AIDS Services, free rapid HIV testing is available to teens both at Lowcountry AIDS and via mobile testing. Danielson and her team also expanded the program’s research through web-based intervention.

“When you look at the data, over 90 percent of kids are online these days, whether it’s traditional internet or on phones,” Danielson said. “We took one of our interventions called SIHLE, which is focused on African-American young girls and is meant to bolster ethnic and gender pride, and translated it for web-based delivery.”

The online SIHLE curriculum, currently password-protected, will be free and open to the public with a national push beginning in September if beta testing goes according to plan. The confidential four-part curriculum will be available to youth and organizations interested in learning risk reduction tools.

The 2013 YES Family Fund received 46 applications and was able to award more than $30,000 to 16 different projects.

They are:

  • CPR classes for pediatric cardiology families,
    Children’s Hospital – $579
  • Pediatric Diabetes Emergency Treatment Project,
    Pediatric Endocrinology – $1,000
  • Helping Little Hearts,
    Pediatric CT surgery – $2,500
  • Astodia Transilluminator,
    7A Children’s Hospital – $868
  • Children’s After Hours Care spirometers,
    Children’s Hospital – $1,993.80
  • Ozzie’s Project,
    Child Life – $2,500
  • Sickle Cell Sisters Support Group,
    Child Life – $2,500
  • Multidisciplinary Cardiac Clinic,
    Therapeutic Services – $2,478
  • Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Psychosocial Program,
    Child Life – $2,500
  • Children’s Hospital Bereavement Program,
    Children’s Services – $2,500
  • Pediatric Diabetes Alert Project,
    Pediatric Endocrinology – $625
  • CARES Clinic,
    Family Medicine – $2,500
  • Charleston Three Star Cycles,
    Occupational Therapy/Therapeutic Services – $2,500
  • Follow-Up After Cancer Therapy (FACT),
    Pediatrics – $1,000
  • Empowerr program,
    Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences – $2,500
  • Project REACH,
    Institute of Psychiatry – $2,500

“Prior to completing one of the Empowerr interventions, 40 percent of kids participating in assessment reported using condoms,” Danielson said. “Three months after completing one of the interventions, the statistics jumped to 83.3 percent.”

Once a teenager starts the program, he or she usually finishes it too. The completion rate within the Department of Juvenile Justice, one of the program’s partners, is 89.7 percent, according to Danielson.

“We’re very encouraged by the results. Most people don’t know what a problem HIV is in the area. It’s really shocking for people when they start to look at those numbers. I think part of the awareness is starting to get out there,” Danielson said. “We’re also very interested in spreading our reach. We’re looking to make a difference wherever we can."

The original grant from SAMHSA will be ending soon, so Danielson recently began applying for more funding options.

The MUSC YES Family Fund responded in a big way.

The YES (Yearly Employee Support) Family Fund is supported by employees who give during the YES Campaign.

Since it was established 14 years ago, more than $280,000 has been awarded to projects. The Empowerr program received $2,500.

“The YES Campaign is helping to provide resources for food in our groups and some swag like T-shirts, pencil pouches and water bottles. Also, as part of the testing we’re doing to prepare for the national launch, the plan is to raffle off an item of some sort for kids who participate and give us feedback,” Danielson said. “It will go a long way. When you think about the impact, these funds will indeed offer a wonderful, high-yielding impact. If you change one kid’s behavior, every person that kid comes into contact with, whether it’s through talking about what they learned or their actual decision making, the behavior transcends.”

For more information about the YES Family Fund, visit

To learn about the Empowerr program, go to

June 13, 2013

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