SHARP developed as a branch of the longstanding Cut Hypertension program that for over a decade has brought student volunteers from the Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM) into barbershops to conduct blood pressure screenings and promote heart health. PSOM students and faculty members teamed up with a coalition representing more than 100 local barbershops and salons and helped them refine their plans for safe reopening including initiating a digital symptom and exposure screening survey and educating shop owners about the importance of consistently using personal protective equipment (PPE). Recognizing that PPE costs could easily become prohibitive, they secured donations and grants to provide this equipment.
Support for SHARP has come from many corners. Accenture provided PPE donations through its African American Employee Resource Group. The SHARP team purchased more supplies and funded activities through grants from the Penn Medicine CAREs program, PSOM’s medical student government, and PennHealthX, a medical student group.
Meanwhile, as the pandemic has evolved, SHARP’s support for the salons and barbershops has shifted and grown due to the team’s emphasis on listening to the community members about their needs. Penn’s Leonard Davis Institute for Health Economics helped conduct focus groups to better understand the challenges of safe reopening including analysis of the attitudes and perceptions of owners and patrons of these businesses. Through this listening, they learned that mental health and financial solvency were major concerns — and SHARP forged new connections through Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships to help address these needs, including a seminar on grant writing.
SHARP is also playing a key role in helping the community safely bridge to the long-awaited end of the pandemic: In 2021, salons and barbershops connected with SHARP have also served as positive vaccine ambassadors by encouraging their social networks to get vaccinated and referring people in their networks to Penn’s community-based vaccination sites.