News & Success Stories


News // August 14, 2013

Project SHINE: An Intergenerational Approach to Health Literacy for Refugees

Individuals and families with diverse histories, cultures and belief systems call San Diego County home.

San Diego’s East County has seen an increase in Iraqi refugees over the past five years and the estimated 30,000 refugees are the second largest Iraqi population in the United States. Many of the newly arriving refugees have limited English-speaking skills, making health literacy a particularly critical need for these families.  In fact, El Cajon Police Department and Sharp-Grossmont Hospital shared information with the County showing a high number of calls being made to 911 by the Iraqi refugee population for preventive services due to difficulty in navigating health care. The high number of phone calls diverts valuable public resources and jeopardizes the ability of first responders to react to emergencies.

Community forums convened in El Cajon, with the support of Supervisor Dianne Jacob, identified these obstacles and their adverse impact on emergency services as a barrier to the successful integration of Iraqi refugees as healthy, safe and thriving members of San Diego society.  Participants in the community forums recognized the need to teach refugees how to manage their own preventative and ongoing healthcare in order to decrease the strain on emergency and healthcare resources to make them more available for the most critical needs of the community.

To address this need, the Live Well San Diego East Region Leadership Team worked with Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College and the Intergenerational Center at Temple University to implement the Project SHINE initiative as a six-month pilot in January 2013.  Funded by Refugee Social Services dollars through the County of San Diego, Project SHINE is a national service model which trains college students and retirees to work with older immigrants over the age of 50 to advance their knowledge of the English language, health literacy and citizenship. The program promotes an exchange between the participants, in which both learners and volunteers learn for each other. Both learners and tutors participate more fully within their communities and gain greater knowledge and appreciation of each other. Tutors can work one-on-one or in small groups.

The focus on English as a second language through health literacy is two-fold— it decreases the number of non-emergency calls to 911, and it helps residents learn English and move towards overall self-sufficiency. Currently there are 44 active participants in Project SHINE supported by 11 tutors at three sites within the community.  A total of 124 individuals have participated in the program to date, and funding has been allocated to continue the program over the course of the next year.

Project SHINE is a strong example of the ways that community members can work together with organizations and County support to address the unique needs of their residents.  This expansion of the intergenerational model to support Iraqi refugees and the neighborhoods in which they reside benefits everyone. By working together at a local level, we can all be healthy, safe, and thriving.

For more information about Project SHINE, read the County News Center article.