Community groups are partnering with three Michigan universities to address health challenges facing Flint residents.

The initiative, known as the Healthy Flint Research Coordinating Center, will connect the community and researchers from the University of Michigan-Flint, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and Michigan State University. It’s an effort organizers say could lead to opportunities for foundation and federal funding.

As each university performs research related to the aftermath of the lead-contamination water crisis, the center brings the entities together, said Suzanne Selig, professor and director of the UM-Flint Public Health and Health Sciences Program.

“The community will ensure there is better coordination between the universities and the research that’s been spawned by the universities,” Selig said, adding that the center will “focus on the needs of the community so that research is not only for the benefit of the researchers, but a benefit for the community.”

The research comes after the city switched its water supply to the Flint River in April 2014.

Projects include long-term water safety testing by university experts and studies on the health effects of lead exposure on vulnerable populations such as the elderly and the young. Research will focus on the environmental, economic, behavioral and physical health of residents, organizers said.

Community involvement in the effort comes through Flint’s Community Based Organization Partners, which consists of more than 20 organizations including nonprofits and faith-based groups. The group will give its input on research projects under consideration.

“Research is important to gain the information to identify where resources are most needed,” said E. Yvonne Lewis, a Flint resident and founding member of Community Based Organization Partners. “We want to make sure the research is addressing the needs of the community. We wanted to make sure that voice is a collective voice. This is very exciting for us.”

There are plans to open an office in Flint, potentially downtown, where both UM-Flint and MSU have a presence.

MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said in a statement Tuesday that the center will provide residents with a “reservoir of collective expertise” and give researchers more ways to serve the community.

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