Development of the Center for Health Services

[Contributed by Barbara Clinton, March 2022]

The Center for Health Services (more recently the Center for Community Health Solutions) focused on uniting students and grassroots community leaders to facilitate community change from 1970-2013, sponsoring hundreds of public health and community service projects. All of the CHS-sponsored projects were designed to support grassroots people taking control of their physical, social, political, or environmental health. These programs and internships helped medical, graduate, and undergraduate students, as well as AmeriCorps members, VISTAs, and community leaders address a community health problem. Many of the programs received national and international awards.

In the more than forty years of its life, the Center was consistent in three things:

  1. Low-income community leaders drove or inspired the work with help from students, staff, and faculty from Vanderbilt, Meharry, and other campuses across the nation.
  2. Health as defined by the World Health Organization, including freedom from disease and freedom to work, live, and collaborate in peace, equity, and prosperity, was the central theme.
  3. The university base at Vanderbilt linked gifted students, good hearted faculty, and staff experts to government and private funding sources, and provided lots of additional support that was used to promote the interests of low-income people.

This unique and successful model demonstrated the value of linking the resources of an elite university with the strengths of low-income people. It was lost when Vanderbilt shut down the Center. On the day of its death, these were its programs:

  • CASTLES was developed as a strategy to prevent obesity and improve child health. Each year, 20-30 students from Vanderbilt, TSU, Belmont, and Lipscomb mentored children ages 5-14. The program developed a high-quality afterschool fitness program for inner city schools and community centers and offered “Community Kitchen” events at community centers. Its outcomes are further described in Linda Wofford’s, Deanna Froeber’s, Barbara Clinton’s, and Eileen Ruchman’s 2013 Family and Community Health article, “Free afterschool program for African American children: findings and lessons”. CASTLES is still in operation, now as a program of the Vanderbilt School of Nursing.
  • The NAZA program was adapted from our CASTLES program by the administration of then Mayor Karl Dean, with CHS serving as the operating agent in north Nashville. It provides support and coaching to the staff of afterschool programs who use an innovative curriculum to improve students’ academic achievement, attendance, and disciplinary records. NAZA, now a program of Nashville Metropolitan Public Library, still operates today.
  • Shade Tree Clinic, a medical student-run clinic providing free care to uninsured patients in collaboration with United Neighborhood Health Services, now operates as a program of the Vanderbilt School of Medicine. Participating students also create wellness programs addressing diabetes, prenatal and early child health, and children’s sports programs.
  • The Maternal Infant Health Outreach Worker program (MIHOW) was developed as a partnership between the Vanderbilt and community organizations in Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia to train and support a network of community women who mentor other mothers to promote healthy pregnancies, healthy children, and healthy emotional bonds between children and their parents. Its outcomes are further described in Melanie Lutenbacher’s, Tonya Elkins’, Mary S. Dietrich’s, and Anais Riggs’ 2018 Maternal and Child Health Journal article, “The Efficacy of Using Peer Mentors to Improve Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes in Hispanic Families: Findings from a Randomized Clinical Trial”. MIHOW is still in operation, now a program of the Vanderbilt School of Nursing. Browse the timeline below for the chronology of events that led up to the beginnings of this program and ongoing development over subsequent decades:


  • The South Nashville Family Resource Center expands opportunities for student involvement in community service in south Nashville, and increases business, community organization, school and resident responsiveness to neighborhood needs. It is now a program of Catholic Charities.
  • The Nashville Mobile Market, with a truck and large refrigerated trailer donated by Vanderbilt, was an AmeriCorps member and student-run program that provided fresh, affordable, and healthy food to 15 inner city food desert neighborhoods each week. More than 9200 customers were served during its operation between 2011 and 2013.
  • The Coalition for Healthy Aging used students, volunteers, and AmeriCorps members to enhance healthy aging across the lifespan for seniors, young women, immigrants, and refugees. The program coordinated health education, hosted fitness and nutrition classes, offered companionship for isolated seniors, and provided breast, ovarian, and cervical cancer education and cultural competency training to health profession students from 1990 to 2013.
  • Service Training for Environmental Progress (STEP) offered student assistance to community and environmental groups working to understand and address complex scientific issues between 1981 and 2012.

Browse the timeline below for a visual telling of the events of Vanderbilt’s Center for Health Services (CHS) from the earliest days throughout its several decades of work.

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