Fact Sheet

Growing and Sustaining Community Partnerships: A Use Case (CEACR)

To create a foundation for community-engaged research, academic research teams should build relationships with community leaders and offer support for community projects outside of research activities. This is a top priority for the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine Center for Rural and Community Health (WVSOM CRCH) staff, whose work represents excellence in community service and partnership. In rural areas across West Virginia, the WVSOM CRCH partners with community-based organizations (CBOs) to manage services and research that address population health and inequities that rural communities experience. Examples of work completed through these unique partnerships include emergency responsiveness and starting programs specific to community needs and interests. Each partnership is built upon a foundation of trust and drives sustained community change. WVSOM CRCH’s story illustrates how academic research institutions can build reciprocal community partnerships characterized by long-term mutual trust and support.

CEACR Community Partnerships

Key Questions:

  • Why are community partnerships important?
  • How are community partnerships and community-led activities related to research?
  • How can academic researchers build partnerships with communities?

Use Case 1: Emergency Task Force Orchestrates Response to Flood and COVID-19

In the summer of 2016, a deadly flood wreaked havoc across West Virginia, causing extensive damage to community buildings and homes and leaving thousands of people displaced. Greenbrier County, WV, home of the WVSOM CRCH, was one of the most severely impacted areas in the state. In response, a county-wide task force comprised of government, businesses, health care organizations, and academic institutions assembled to organize local disaster relief for housing, food, transportation, and health care needs and supplement the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s response. The WVSOM CRCH offered its space, hosted task force meetings, and served as a connector for resources and CBOs in response to the catastrophe.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the task force quickly and efficiently remobilized to host regional vaccine clinics, collect and distribute food donations, and address other disparities caused by the pandemic. The WVSOM CRCH became more than a source of education and vaccinations; it became a cornerstone of the community. The WVSOM CRCH achieved this through active listening, engaging residents in programs that met their needs, and collaborating with community experts and leaders, especially the Greenbrier County Health Department. By providing resources and responding to community needs, the WVSOM established a strong foundation of trust and reciprocity with community members, which can support future community-engaged research.


The National Weather Service. The historic 2016 late June flooding event in West Virginia. Accessed April 23, 2024.

The National Weather Service. The historic and devastating floods of June 23rd 2016. Accessed April 23, 2024 .

Key Takeaways:

  • Establish partnerships before research is conducted. Trust is an essential aspect of community-engaged research. Build trust with community leaders and CBOs by investing time in relationship-building and showing up for the community before making requests of the community. Researchers should offer support for community-led projects outside of research activities wherever possible.
  • Prioritize serving the community. Academic research institutions should aim to promote health equity by prioritizing the needs and interests of communities along with research activities. The outcomes of the research should return value to community members.
  • Lean on community expertise. Residents know their community the best. By relying on residents’ lived experiences, researchers can learn about community interests, address community-specific needs through research, and receive consistent feedback on their work.

Use Case 2: The Community Ambassador Program Bolsters Resident-Led Rural Health Projects

The Greenbrier County Health Alliance (GCHA) is a nonprofit organization formed in 2016 by the WVSOM CRCH with funding from the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute. In 2017, the GCHA developed the Community Ambassador Program (CAP) to improve holistic health across Greenbrier County, WV, focusing on those in remote areas without easy access to valuable services, resources, and support systems. Discussions about establishing the CAP among county leaders created trust, allowing them to align visions and build an inclusive program.

The CAP is founded on the central principles of engagement and participatory methods, including trust, respect, agency, empowerment, and shared leadership. The program uses grassroots approaches to mobilize local leaders and organizes a county-wide network to support action.

Community Ambassadors of the CAP direct collaborative, community-driven projects that promote residents’ health and transform the places where they live. GCHA and the CAP support Community Ambassadors with resources, training, technical assistance, connections to WVSOM (a backbone organization), and mini-grant opportunities. GCHA also connects with Community Ambassadors to build capacity and infrastructure for sustainable, community-led engagement. This approach centers on the strengths and priorities of rural and marginalized populations. The WVSOM CRCH’s community-based work has built the foundation for research and evaluation related to CAP projects, in which community members have expressed interest. Overall, the CAP develops a foundation for a central, active, and evolving community-driven research plan that meaningfully prioritizes and involves the perspectives of community members across West Virginia.

Key Takeaways:

  • Dedicate funding for engagement and community projects. By committing budget funds to community-focused projects, academic research institutions can tangibly invest in and support critical community-led work, address community needs, and establish the groundwork for future research partnerships.
  • Community partnerships can support a broad view of wellness to address various social determinants of health. Through various projects and programs, researchers can uplift the community as a whole.
  • Engage community partners in research. Build partnerships to launch research projects with community members focusing on their interests. Beyond participation, provide community members the opportunity to co-lead each stage of a research study. If your academic institution receives an invitation to participate in research relevant to your community partners, invite your community partners to participate as well.

Learn More About the WVSOM

Targeted Resources

  • CEACR Trustworthiness and Research Reciprocity Toolkit
    Trustworthiness and research reciprocity are essential ingredients for successful community-based participatory research. Use this toolkit to promote equitable treatment of community collaborators and return relevant results to communities.
  • CEACR Best Practices for Community Partner Compensation Toolkit
    Fair partner compensation is essential for appropriately integrating community collaborators as members of the research team. This toolkit provides guidance on ways health care and academic institutions can ensure that community partners are equitably compensated for their time and expertise.

CEACR Resource Toolkits

CEACR resource toolkits were developed using expert insights and direct feedback from community leaders. 

CEACR supports the CEAL mission by serving as a conduit for community-engaged promising practices to NIH-funded research teams seeking to apply principles of community-engaged approaches to address diversifying research participation, with a specific emphasis on African American/Black, Hispanic American/Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native communities.

Requests for CEACR services can be made at https://redcap.link/consultrequest.