Edited from original publication on Colorado School of Public Health newsroom.
Colorado School of Public Health alumna Rachel Freeman, MPH ’14, is making her mark in public health. She is part of a team that includes famed alumni artist Armando Silva BA '10, that has recently transformed the exterior wall of a vacant building in northern Colorado into a colorful statement of health advocacy.
The mural “Protect Your Future” will be unveiled Friday, July 14 at the corner of 8th Ave. and 7th St. in downtown Greeley, Colorado, as a call to consider the impacts of tobacco use and vaping.
Freeman works as the Tobacco Program Supervisor at Weld County Public Health. She brought together the local youth coalition PACT (Preventing Addiction Caused by Tobacco) and artist Armando Silva with her office to create a unique message of prevention.
After several meetings between Silva and PACT an idea which culminated over two years came to life in an expression she feels is far more effective than a billboard or radio advertising.
“The mural really fit in with the kind of movement that’s happening,” she said. “In terms of reach, it just made sense.”
Freeman explained the vibrant depiction of a heart and lungs enclosed by a pair of hands symbolizes protection of vital organs by denouncing harmful behaviors, such as smoking. Her intentions were to create a message that inspires healthy choices in a way that is positive.
“That can be hard sometimes, when you’re talking substance abuse,” she said.
Health Department staff involved youth from the community in both the design and painting of the mural, challenging them to consider what aspects of their lives could lead them to use substances in the first place. They asked the kids to conceptualize what it means to have clean air not only in their lungs but in the environment at large.
The piece has been well received in an area of Greeley that is bourgeoning but still has some vacant buildings, like the one “Protect Your Future” is painted on.
“Greeley is doing a lot of revitalization with public art,” Freeman said, adding that locals report walking out of their way just to go past and admire the mural.
That means a lot regarding a project so close to Freeman’s heart.
“I grew up here in the city of Greeley,” she said. “I know this community at a very deep and personal level.”
She attributed the success of her job at Weld County Public Health and the skills necessary to embark on a project like this to those she gained while enrolled in the Community Health Education MPH program at ColoradoSPH at the University of Northern Colorado. The engaging teaching style of her instructors was as beneficial as the networking opportunities she made and working with her peers.
In this creative endeavor, it was working with the kids, the artists, the coalitions – everyone, that she recommends as an experience for current ColoradoSPH students.
“Learning through actual practice is very invaluable,” she said.
Story by Brett McPherson, communications specialist for ColoradoSPH.