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My name is Jacqueline Perez and I am a rising senior majoring in Global Health and International Comparative Studies. This summer I am grateful to be participating in a remote DukeEngage Independent Project with the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County (DOH-Manatee) located in Bradenton, Florida. DOH-Manatee works to protect, promote & improve the health of all people in Florida through integrated state, county, and community efforts.

I find myself constantly being drawn back to my own community. I grew up in Manatee County. In fact, the DOH-Manatee office is no more than a 10-15 minute drive from where my family resides. In reflecting on why I am doing this work, a few things come to mind. My previous professional experiences both at home and at Duke have led me to realize that I deeply value community, knowledge, and well-being. The community value most likely explains why I felt so compelled to select an organization close to home for my DukeEngage project. As far as my value of knowledge goes, my identity as a first-generation/low-income college student has shown me the power of education and therefore, knowledge is something I seek to share with others – whether it is knowledge of health resources or college access.

I am serving under the Community Health Division at DOH-Manatee, where I am working to advance the efforts of Tobacco-Free Manatee among disparate populations, particularly among young adults and minority communities in the area. Part of my work will focus on increasing the number of Tobacco-Free Worksites (TFW) in the area and supporting the campaign targeting the current e-epidemic (vaping and e-cigarettes) that is prevalent among youth and young adults in the county. I am looking forward to engaging with local public health officials and increasing my understanding regarding the pressing health issues that are disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations where I live. Although I grew up in the area, I am aware that I have much to learn from this community. 

Given the current health situation we are in and that this is a remote experience, I anticipate this to be a valuable learning experience surrounding the nature of remote public health work. Already, I appreciate the staff support I have received from DOH-Manatee and I look forward to sharing more in the coming weeks.