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PASOs named 2017 Health Equity Hero by DentaQuest and receives Exemplary Designation by W.K. Kellogg Foundation

July 5, 2017 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

What began as a field placement project for Julie Smithwick’s master of social work program at UofSC back in 2005 is now a cornerstone of the Latino community in South Carolina, and it has the accolades to prove it. Now it its 12th year and with an annual budget of $1.3 million, PASOs is a thriving community-based organization that specializes in connecting Latino families with critical education and resources in areas such as maternal and child health and early childhood development.

“PASOs exemplifies the university’s commitment to being responsive to the needs of the state by partnering with leaders from our fastest growing population, the Latino community, to improve health outcomes,” says University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides. “PASOs is an outstanding model showing that we are not just the University of South Carolina; we are the University for South Carolina.”

Through custom programming and collaborative partnerships with the Latino community and hundreds of service providers, the Arnold School-based organization was founded by Smithwick to educate, support and empower families. Their community health workers educate families about preventive health care, parenting, and childhood development to promote equity and improve health.  

Over the past decade, PASOs has been recognized both locally and nationally for its expertise in working with Latino populations and facilitating advancements in health and family support throughout the state. In 2017 alone, the grassroots organization has received the Health Equity Hero Award from DentaQuest and was identified with Exemplary Designation by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

DentaQuest, the nation’s leading oral health enterprise and largest Medicaid dental benefits company, annually selects a handful of leaders across the United States who exhibit exceptional work in removing barriers and developing innovative programming to improve health outcomes and access to health care for underserved populations. As a 2017 Health Equity Hero, PASOs will receive a $1,000 donation to promote health equity.

“We are honored to recognize these pioneers for their decades of service and unparalleled leadership in improving the health and equity of their local communities,” said Steve Pollock, president and CEO of DentaQuest. “As we strive to improve the oral health of all, this work is core to our organization’s efforts and demonstrates the opportunities for each of us to create change in our communities.”

The University of South Carolina nominated PASOs for the 2017 W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Engagement Scholarship Awards and the C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award. This awards program is designed to recognize outstanding community-university engagement scholarship work.

Though PASOs was not selected among the four regional winners, the Foundation did identify them as receiving Exemplary Designation for the South region—an honor attributed to only one organization or project per region. PASOs will be recognized at the Kellogg Foundation’s Engagement Scholarship Consortium Annual Conference in Birmingham, Alabama this fall.

“I am so proud of the PASOs team and our partners like USC and other supportive organizations, and the work we’ve done together over the past 12 years,” says Smithwick. “Our framework is built on cultural strengths, partnership and trust-building and works both in communities and systems to address the need for more equitable resources. These awards demonstrate that our model is making a difference and that together we can go so much further!”