Pomona Students Win Strauss Award to Fund Community Health Projects

Head and shoulders photos of Trisha Gongalore and Joana Antonio

Joana Antonio ’25 and Trisha Gongalore ’25 share a passion for community health outreach that they have been incorporating into their work at Pomona College’s Draper Center for Community Partnerships since their first year on campus. Now, thanks to the Donald A. Strauss Scholarship Foundation, they will share a $15,000 award that funds new projects through the Draper Center.

Antonio is coordinator of educational outreach for Health Bridges, one of the Draper Center programs. Gongalore was the Health Bridges coordinator for community outreach before embarking on a public health-focused study abroad program in Argentina spring semester. “Both of us had our own set of projects that we wanted to fund,” says Antonio, and they noticed important similarities. “We both focus on tackling health holistically at all stages of life,” she says. That shared vision led Antonio and Gongalore to team up on a unified grant proposal. In April they learned that it had been accepted.

Antonio will lead Preventative Health Education in Youth, in cooperation with staff of the Draper Center’s new Pomona College Community Engagement Center in downtown Pomona. The program’s centerpiece will be 13 workshops on key aspects of wellness—mental and physical health and optimal nutrition—for youth and their parents.

“My initiative encompasses high school students whose background is first generation, low income and people of color who come from communities that have been historically disadvantaged and don’t have access to resources,” says Antonio. “I see myself in a lot of these students, wishing that when I was a kid, I had that sort of curriculum, someone to make me more aware of these topics.”

Antonio says that a lot of health information is very standardized and may not be adapted to various cultures. Through her proposed program she aims to provide education so young people and families can connect with their cultures and still enjoy healthy meals. One tangible outcome will be a student-generated community cookbook, to be created using knowledge gained in the wellness workshops.

Gongalore, who like Antonio is a pre-med student, says she’s wanted to be a doctor since junior high school. Growing up, she watched her grandparents suffer illness and saw the way it impacted the whole family. “That experience really made me want to help people through that process, making sure that they were able to access the resources that they needed,” she says.

Gongalore’s initiative will involve cooperation with the ParkTree Community Health Center to strengthen a Social Needs Referral Network. The network connects people in the Pomona Valley region with organizations that can provide the services they need, such as signing up for health insurance, finding housing and obtaining employment.

A weakness has been the reliability of the service organizations. Gongalore and her team will make a comprehensive list of organizations for the referral network. Then “we will visit them to learn about their accessibility, reliability and process of helping patients and establish a member of the organization as the point person for ParkTree referrals,” she says. They also plan to host Referral Network Conferences for staff in the service organizations and Resource Fairs for patients.

Antonio and Gongalore plan to recruit 20 to 30 student volunteers from The Claremont Colleges for a minimum two-year commitment to increase the sustainability of the projects. Both programs will be run under the umbrella of the Draper Center.

The Strauss Foundation mission, as noted on its website, is “encouraging young leaders from 23 pre-selected California Colleges and Universities to undertake a high-impact project in public service or social change in their junior or senior year.” It describes the projects it funds as “focused clearly on social change/public service/social entrepreneurship” and looks for projects that align closely with “the applicant’s passion, life experience.”

Antonio and Gongalore join 14 previous Pomona College students to have received Strauss awards since 2009.