Health happens in a context—one of the many reasons “community” has been at the forefront of Tolani Ayeni’s life and work. Or perhaps, as she says, it is because of the communities she carries with her, the daughter of Nigerian and Mexican parents.
Joining the Global Health Education and Learning Incubator (GHELI) as a Staff Assistant, Tolani will be supporting GHELI’s global health repository, organizing and curating digital resources and educational materials. Holding a B.A. in Public Health Studies from John Hopkins University, Tolani brings with her rich, interdisciplinary experiences as a public health researcher and advocate.
While an intern at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Baltimore, MD, Tolani provided direct case management services to more than 100 asylee clients from El Salvador, Congo, and Cuba. Engaging with asylee clients one-on-one and through health education workshops, it became evident to Tolani that successful case management only happened when the client’s needs were centered in the process. Linking clients to critical community resources, said Tolani, made her “a better advocate” and often meant meeting people where they were at.
Tolani brought this perspective to her subsequent role as a research assistant at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where she focused on community care, immigrant health, and mental health service provision. Whether designing outreach strategies to recruit immigrant and refugee youth for a needs assessment or conducting home visits about safety education neighborhood by neighborhood, Tolani’s dedication to community-centered health equity research and practice only deepened.
“Community is a place how home should feel—safe,” shares Tolani. She fondly recalls how her neighbors brought over fruit or invited her to gatherings without hesitation when she started working at the Hawai’i Public Health Institute. “There is an experience of togetherness, where care feels tangible and thoughtful.”
Prior to joining the Incubator, Tolani served as the Evaluation and Community Engagement Coordinator at the Hawaii Public Health Institute. Supporting the organization’s myriad community health and advocacy initiatives, Tolani collected feedback about community health programs, designed impact evaluations, conducted needs assessments on local school gardening programs, and contributed to various local data collection efforts. With her aptitude for qualitative and quantitative research, passion for health equity, and intuition for collaborating across disciplines, populations, and contexts, Tolani is a natural fit for the Incubator.