Vaccination is Our Best Path to Ending the COVID-19 Pandemic

As a public health nonprofit agency working in many diverse communities, we aim to help mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 virus, which has hit under-resourced communities the most. A focus on prevention not only makes good sense, but in the case of vaccination, saves lives.

Data show not only higher COVID-19 impacts in communities of color but also, after the first vaccines became available in the U.S., we clearly saw the highest hospitalizations and deaths in states, counties and communities with the lowest vaccination rates.

The delta variant is roughly twice as contagious as the initial strain of COVID-19 and has a much higher viral load. As COVID-19 cases rise across the country, pediatric cases are rising alongside adult cases.

Here are the facts about COVID-19.

We believe in collective responsibility and collective impact. These values are crucial to community health, now more than ever, as the pandemic continues. We can all prevent even more sickness, death and longer-term health disparities by advocating for vaccination.

The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get vaccinated, which will reduce your own risk and help protect your community against the chance that the coronavirus will mutate into dangerous variants.

Anyone can now text their ZIP code to GETVAX (438829) in English or VACUNA (822862) in Spanish to get the contact information of three locations near them with available vaccines.

Institute for Public Strategies to Present Community Power and Equity Case Study at APHA Annual Conference

SAN DIEGO, August 2021 – An Institute for Public Strategies (IPS) program manager has been selected to present this year on health inequities in communities of color at the prestigious American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting and Expo in Denver.

The APHA event is the largest and most influential gathering of public health professionals, with this year’s theme of “Creating the Healthiest Nation: Strengthening Social Connectedness.” Tens of thousands of participants will attend online and in Denver in October 2021. IPS Program Manager Maurina Cintron of Los Angeles County will present a case study on community power and equity with a focus on the Los Angeles Drug and Alcohol Policy Alliance (LA DAPA), a city and countywide group of public health professionals, community members and 30 organizations working to implement policies that reduce substance-related harms.

The group was founded in 2012 to empower communities of color in the City of L.A. to reduce dramatic health inequities in their neighborhoods. For generations, people of color in L.A. have been held back by laws limiting their potential in education, employment, politics, housing, and health.

“I will showcase how LA DAPA, with our community partners and collaborators, was able to quickly rally around conditions that were creating alcohol-related harm, such as the over-proliferation of alcohol retailers in historically disadvantaged communities of color,” Cintron said.

This session will provide a roadmap for integrating social justice into coalition work. Los Angeles’ retail alcohol environment has contributed to higher rates of crime and violence in low-income areas because of historic, entrenched zoning practices. Utilizing a framework that combined extensive assessment, intentional organizing, media, and targeted advocacy with policymakers, LA DAPA has emerged as a powerful, thriving, community-based organization that is affecting systemic change.

IPS works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health and improve quality of life. IPS has a vision for safe, secure, vibrant and healthy communities where everyone can thrive.


Paul Levikow
Institute for Public Strategies
(619) 476-9100 ext. 112

IPS wins Los Angeles County Department of Public Health grant to combat dangers of second hand smoke in multi-housing units

LOS ANGELES, April 2021 – Institute for Public Strategies Los Angeles announced it has received a grant to address the harmful effects of second hand smoke and help eliminate its dangers in multiunit housing, such as apartment buildings and condominiums, through prevention and policy.

The grant’s objective is to create “a social milieu and legal climate in which tobacco becomes less desirable, less acceptable, and less accessible for current and potential future tobacco users.” Funding for the grant comes from the California Tobacco Control Program.

Although California has made great progress in eliminating second hand smoke in the workplace, for the many Californians who live in multiunit housing, breathing second hand smoke drifting from neighboring units, balconies, and outdoor areas is an ongoing and real health problem. Smoke can seep under doorways and through wall cracks.

“The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded that eliminating smoking in indoor spaces is the only way to fully protect nonsmokers from second hand smoke exposure,” IPS Program Manager Maurina Cintron said. “Separating smokers from nonsmokers and ventilating buildings doesn’t eliminate smoke exposure, but the voices of organized community members can.”

Although local public housing authorities have adopted smoke-free housing policies mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, this represents only a small percentage of the available rental housing. A vast majority of renters who live in privately owned multiunit housing remain unprotected against second hand smoke.

Under the new grant, IPS will seek to create policy and social norms change around exposure to tobacco smoke through a broad range of community engagement services in the City of Los Angeles including community meetings and events; educational presentations to community groups; local coalition building; publications; social media; meetings with local policy makers; public hearings; and informational community forums to raise awareness and garner support to reduce second hand exposure to smoke in multiunit housing in the City of Los Angeles. A major component of the initiative will be to build a community based coalition of advocates focused on policy that will reduce residents’ exposure to second hand smoke.

IPS works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health and improve quality of life. IPS has a vision for safe, secure, vibrant and healthy communities where everyone can thrive.

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Paul Levikow
Institute for Public Strategies
(619) 476-9100 ext. 112

Chula Vista Downtown

IPS community organizer appointed to Chula Vista Redistricting Commission and high school district bond oversight committee

SAN DIEGO, February 2021 – Institute for Public Strategies (IPS) South Bay Community Organizer Stelle Andrade has been named the youngest member of the City of Chula Vista Redistricting Commission and was selected to serve on the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee for the Sweetwater Union High School District.

The redistricting commission is tasked with drawing new boundaries for Chula Vista City Council districts following the 2020 U.S. Census. The bond oversight committee is charged with fiscal responsibility of bonds being spent by the Sweetwater Union High School District in San Diego County’s South Bay region. The appointments come on the heels of Andrade’s serving as an election site manager for the San Diego County Registrar of Voters during the 2020 Presidential Election.

“At a young age I always wanted to be involved in the community,” Andrade said. “I have always had the idea that I wanted to help.”

Andrade said her involvement on the redistricting commission goes hand-in-hand with her work as a community organizer for the Southern California-based nonprofit.

“The commission stresses the importance of representation, not just the communities of color but also people of different ages,” Andrade said. “This type of inclusion is vital to me, and I am delighted to have a seat at the table.”

Andrade’s work on the bond oversight committee feeds her desire to be a lifelong learner. “I find it interesting because the committee’s work is unchartered territory for me,” she said. “We discuss the school district’s funds and how to properly and responsibly manage them. I don’t have a strong knowledge in that area yet, but I’m learning.”

To read Stelle’s full interview, please click here.

IPS works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health and improve quality of life. IPS has a vision for safe, secure, vibrant and healthy communities where everyone can thrive.

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Paul Levikow
Institute for Public Strategies
(619) 476-9100 ext. 112

Advancing Equity Examples

Institute for Public Strategies announces the addition of two new board members

SAN DIEGO, December 2020 – Southern California based nonprofit Institute for Public Strategies (IPS) is pleased to announce the addition of two new members to its board of directors.

Dana Sherrod

Dana Sherrod

Dana Sherrod is a public health leader in Los Angeles and Sara Cooley Broschart is the Public Health Liaison for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. They were recently approved unanimously to join the IPS board.

Sherrod is a visionary whose work centers on health equity, gender, and racial justice. She serves as the perinatal equity manager with the Public Health Alliance of Southern California – a coalition of the executive leadership of eight Southern California health departments. Sherrod leads a multi-sector hospital quality improvement project aimed at reducing Black infant and maternal health inequities among some of Los Angeles’ most prominent delivery hospitals. It’s a homecoming of sorts for Sherrod, who served as part of the IPS Los Angeles team for about two years. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Public Administration and a Master of Public Health from San Jose State University.

“I am truly honored to join the IPS board of directors and serve in this capacity. This year perhaps more than ever has demonstrated the urgent need to advance community-driven solutions to advance equity,” Sherrod said. “I believe that together, the incredible IPS leadership, staff, and board will accomplish many notable successes, and I am excited to contribute to the transformative work ahead.”

Sara Cooley Broschart

Sara Cooley Broschart

Broschart has more than 10 years of experience as a substance abuse prevention leader at local, regional and state levels. In Washington, she uses her public health expertise to advise alcohol and marijuana regulators on policy and best practices as well as develops innovative methods to engage community voices in rule making activities. Broschart earned a master’s in Public Health (Epidemiology) from the University of Arizona and spent five years in a doctoral program (Cultural Anthropology) at the University of Michigan.

IPS’ Board of Directors is made up of dedicated leaders from across the nation with diverse backgrounds.

“These new board members will contribute through their highly applicable skill sets to the communities where we work. In addition, this is exactly the diversity, equity and inclusion we continue to seek for the IPS Board of Directors,” Board Chairperson and IPS Founder James Baker said. “Their experience, education and demonstrated leadership abilities are a great addition to the dedicated group of professionals who keep IPS moving forward through constantly changing conditions on the ground.”

IPS works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health and improve quality of life. IPS has a vision for safe, secure, vibrant and healthy communities where everyone can thrive.

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Paul Levikow
Institute for Public Strategies
(619) 476-9100 ext. 112

IPS to present on community transformation model, GIS as an equity indicator at the APHA’s prestigious annual conference

SAN DIEGO, October 2020 – Two Institute for Public Strategies (IPS) directors have been selected to present this year at the American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting and Expo, the largest and most influential gathering of public health professionals. The October event brings together the public health community to experience “robust scientific programming, networking, social events and more,” according to the event website.

Craig Reed, program director of the San Diego County Binge and Underage Drinking Initiative (BUDI) and Meredith Gibson, media director at IPS, will appear at the virtual conference on Oct. 28, 2020. This annual conference expects to draw more than 12,000 participants throughout the U.S. around this year’s theme, “Creating the Healthiest Nation: Preventing Violence.”

Reed will lead two workshops, including Community Change: Utilizing a Dynamic Model for Integrated Approaches, where he will present the IPS Approach to Community Transformation (ACT) Model. The ACT Model is a framework for creating upstream community change, combining five interrelated strategies including data and research; community organizing; media advocacy; policy and systems change; and sustainability.

Reed’s other workshop is Media Advocacy: The Art of Influencing Positive Change.

“It’s important to put the tools we’ve developed and refined into the hands of others so that those working to make their communities more vibrant and better places to live have what they need to succeed,” Reed said. “We’re helping to raise the bar for public health as a whole so they look not just upstream, but at how different community conditions interact with each other.”

Gibson’s presentation is on Place Matters: Promoting Health Equity for Latino Communities in San Diego’s South Bay. It focuses on Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping and how it relates to the childhood opportunity index — a measurement of the quality of resources and conditions that matter to children. It also explores the hardship index — a measurement of six socioeconomic indicators, each classified into three groups and overlaid on a layer representing the percent of Latinx population to create a dynamic data dashboard.

The resulting maps show that areas with low childhood opportunity and high hardship also have a large percentage of Latinos, and demonstrate where policy, infrastructure, and health interventions would be most beneficial.

“The conference will be a way for us to showcase our advocacy work at IPS by focusing on equity and how we are using data and technology to inform our decisions,” Gibson said. “I’ve been thinking about how to incorporate GIS into our work and using story maps and data dashboards provide excellent visualization tools to reach a broad public health audience.”

Typically, many of the conference presentations are focused on the latest research, but there aren’t that many that cover upstream prevention and what this approach looks like on the ground, according to Reed.

“To effectively change community conditions, you can’t just look at one thing like alcohol in isolation,” Reed said. “You have to understand how that item is connected to other community elements and ensure the work you’re doing takes those additional elements into consideration.”

IPS works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health and improve quality of life. IPS has a vision for safe, secure, vibrant and healthy communities where everyone can thrive.

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Paul Levikow
Institute for Public Strategies
(619) 476-9100 ext. 112

Focus Areas

Institute for Public Strategies unveils next generation vision, mission, core values under new CEO/President

New corporate website also launched in October 2020 at

SAN DIEGO, October 2020 —The Institute for Public Strategies (IPS), a San Diego-based public health organization, has led upstream prevention projects across the United States and in Mexico since 1992. IPS currently directs multiple government- and foundation-funded projects throughout Southern California, with offices in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino Counties.

IPS’s new mission – created with an understanding that most health disparities stem from unjust community and social conditions — is to work alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health, and improve quality of life.

Brenda SimmonsEquity is listed first among IPS’s core values, which also include diversity, empowerment, systems change, results, and integrity.

“Equity is not a path forward, it is the path forward,” CEO/President Brenda Simmons said. “We are committed to transforming the social determinants of health so that all individuals, regardless of their race, culture, economic circumstances, sexual orientation, gender identity, or educational attainment, have the opportunity to live their best lives.”

Simmons was promoted to lead IPS in April 2019 after founding CEO/President James Baker transitioned to the chairman of the board of directors.

Simmons joined IPS in 2003 as a community organizer in San Diego County and worked her way up the ranks. Her broad range of experience includes leading state-, county-, and city-wide projects in places like Montana, Los Angeles, and West Hollywood, as well as managing the IPS-led San Diego-Tijuana Border Underage Drinking Project, a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) model program.

The Montana native has been involved in projects focused on substance abuse prevention, community revitalization, and child sex trafficking. Simmons earned a Master’s in Communication at San Diego State University and a Bachelor’s in Communication at the University of Montana.

“The Institute for Public Strategies partners with communities to advance quality of life,” Simmons said. “Together, we work to transform the conditions and systems that perpetuate inequity, poor health, and lack of opportunity in order to create vital, thriving, and inclusive communities.”

The new IPS vision is for safe, secure, vibrant, and healthy communities where everyone can thrive.

Launched in 1992, IPS originally focused on providing media advocacy services and training and technical assistance. Over time, IPS began operating its own projects, performing prevention implementation on large research initiatives and providing technical assistance and training to many government agencies and program operators across the nation.

IPS has emerged as a leader in program design and implementation of “environmental” or “upstream” prevention in the public health and safety field, having worked in dozens of state-, county-, and community-level projects, including the Community Trials to Reduce Alcohol Trauma project and the American Medical Association-led A Matter Of Degree (AMOD) – a college-community alcohol and binge drinking prevention program.

IPS’s expansive body of innovative work continues today. IPS has over 35 employees and offices in multiple California cities, as well as in Montana.

“What IPS is most proud of now is our community partnerships with other like-minded agencies doing similar work, as well as with our funders,” said Simmons. “These partnerships allow us to do our best work and to make a difference.”


Geographic information systems helping southwest U.S. Mexico border residents improve health and safety

Partnerships 4 Success project addresses conditions that lead to disadvantages and offers solutions, especially among Latinx population

SAN DIEGO, July 2020 – Efforts are under way for San Diego’s border region to increase chances at a better quality of life, particularly among the Latinx population. Led by the Institute for Public Strategies (IPS), the Partnerships 4 Success (P4S) project brings together public health, law enforcement, education, community-based organizations and elected officials to help the border communities in San Diego County most in need of services.

The coalition is creating solutions that strengthen the resiliency of underserved populations and marginalized communities through a five-year grant by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The border region is a multicultural blend of art, heritage and music. Despite this rich cultural diversity, many residents there often do not have the same opportunities to achieve a standard of living as their counterparts in other areas of San Diego County.

Communities near the U.S.-Mexico border have a large number of economically disadvantaged residents with the lowest household incomes and education in the county.

Geographic information systems (GIS) is playing an important role in helping P4S address health inequities in the region. The team has identified the neighborhoods most in need of intervention by creating a map that depicts the Hardship Index, Child Opportunity Index and the percentage of the Latinx population.

“No child should ever have to live a substandard quality of life because of the color of their skin,” Brittany Hunsinger, P4S program manager said. “A ZIP code should never determine the health, educational experience and life expectancy of anyone.”

The fact that this is happening along the border is no coincidence since the region’s population is majority Latinx. Where a person lives matters. It matters in the quality of education; the accessibility of good nutrition; transportation; exercise and health services; and economic opportunities to sustain a living wage.

Neighborhoods that have historically been marginalized and that have suffered from racism and injustice are the least likely to be invested in. They experience more symptoms of poverty, high school dropout rates, and heavy alcohol and drug use.

These factors lead to community trauma and toxic stress. For children, this harm can lead to diminished cognitive brain development, mental health issues, substance misuse and other long-lasting consequences that can cost taxpayers millions of dollars in health care expenses.

“Since P4S is funded for substance abuse prevention, our goals include reducing underage drinking, methamphetamine use and opioid misuse because residents are more prone to these challenges along the border,” Hunsinger said. “We are going way upstream determining where the health inequities and disparities exist geographically that contribute to these behaviors.”

“That includes zoning in on those ZIP Codes where they seem to collect and figuring out what is coming together to make it so severe and what we can do to make a difference in five years,” she said.

IPS partners in the P4S project include the San Diego County Alcohol Policy Panel; Binge and Underage Drinking Initiative of San Diego County; San Diego County Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force; San Diego County Meth Strike Force; San Diego Countywide Media Advocacy project; Southwest Community College District; Mending Matters; Healthy Chula Vista Initiative; Outdoor Outreach; San Diego County District Attorney’s Office; Scripps Health; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; San Ysidro Health; Live Well San Diego; South Bay Community Services; and McAlister Institute.

For more information, visit the P4S website at