Gratitude for Simple Moments

By Amelia Davis, Community HealthCorps® Member, Salud Family Health Centers

Salud-2014-15 TeamIt is only the second month of my AmeriCorps service term with Community HealthCorps®, but the days rush by, filled with hospital visits, home visits, and electronic medical records—all key parts of my role within the Transitions of Care program. Each day upon arriving home after sitting in aggravating traffic, I find myself collapsing on the couch, full of simple gratitude for my currently healthy and prescription-less life.

Recently, my Community HealthCorps® team and I volunteered at a non-healthcare event that instilled in me a different sort of gratitude. After a day full of healthcare-related phone calls, visits, and problem-solving, the eight of us made the drive to the Greeley Center for Independence in northern Colorado to spend the evening with people suffering from brain damage or spinal cord injuries. Our Community HealthCorps® Program Coordinator told us about some of the things we might have to do, but as most of us hadn’t had much interaction with people living in a facility such as this, we didn’t really know what to expect.

In spite of my ever-present belief to always keep an open mind and recognize the hidden story in others, I found myself feeling sorry for these people before I had even met them. I simply couldn’t imagine what life would be like without the freedom to move my legs or any other body part at will. Then, I met Larry* and Johnny*, two men from completely different circumstances and backgrounds. Larry ambled about, chattering excitedly about his work day and how he watered his plants before we came. At the sight of a bee buzzing about the room, he trembled nervously, saying, “I don’t like bees much.” Soon after, I met Johnny as he rolled into the room in his wheelchair. With a big smile and a sly sense of humor, he showed us the photo albums that his mother had made for him. From across the table, Larry would pipe in excitedly, “That’s your brother, right, Johnny?” “You looked good with a mustache, huh, Johnny?” Larry then turned to me and said, “I don’t have any photos. And I’m mad at my brother for not calling me today.” He jumped up to run to his room and came back with a stack of Polaroids, mostly of scenery in Nebraska. The two men huddled over their photos across the table from one another, pointing at birthday cakes and red houses that have now become memories on photo paper.

la fotoA short time later, we played Bingo, with Larry shouting “Bingo!” in a black-out game and Johnny just missing a black-out Bingo by one square. It was clear that these two men looked out for one another and had formed a close bond in their time living as neighbors. Nearby, a bright young woman named Marie* beamed as she talked about her love for her home states and her upcoming registration for her degree at the university directly across the street, both things that have helped her move on from an accident that left her unable to move her lower body. I left smiling and feeling uplifted by the small moments where the young and old of various mental and physical capacities shared a laugh or leaned in to share stories.

No one can say what way is the “best” way to live. The beautiful thing about humans is our ability to be perceptive and understanding of all ways of life and to overcome hurdles and adversity that initially seem insurmountable. While Larry and Johnny may spend the rest of their life living in their little apartments on Eldorado Way*, it doesn’t mean that their lives will be any less enriching or fulfilling. The smallest moments can often be the most touching, as I saw with the endearing and loyal friendship between these two men and in Marie’s spark of hopefulness for her future. These small moments can add up, and pity is an approach that doesn’t benefit anyone. A listening ear or a smile, a shared laugh, and the release of preconceptions that are most often proven wrong show empathy and help establish more meaningful connections with others. While there are many things I would like to do in my life, I had never once thought about what would happen if I couldn’t walk or run, or if I had a condition like uncontrolled diabetes that some of the patients in our clinic experience. I am humbled by the optimism and genuine nature of the people I meet on a daily basis. There will always be obstacles, whether great or small; just how great and small those obstacles are is a matter of how we frame them in our minds.

*All names and locations have been changed to ensure privacy.

Posted in AmeriCorps, community healthcorps, Greeley Center for Independence, independent living, National Association of Community Health Centers, national service, Salud Family Health Centers, service, volunteer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Introducing Gerrard Jolly, Community HealthCorps’ New National Director

By Anastasia Romanova, Program Specialist, NACHC-Community HealthCorps®

Gerrard Jolly (@JustJolly), Deputy National Director of Community HealthCorps® since July 2009, has been selected as the next National Director of the National Association of Community Health Centers’ (NACHC) national AmeriCorps program. Officially assuming his new role on October 1, 2014, Jolly succeeded Jason Patnosh (@NACHC_JPatnosh), the program’s National Director for the past eight years, who is now transitioning into a new position at NACHC as an Associate Vice President focusing on partnerships and resource development.

Jolly joined NACHC as Community HealthCorps®’ Manager of Program Monitoring & Compliance in 2007, helping to strengthen the program’s policies and procedures. Before NACHC, Jolly served as Program Director for community engagement, visitor experience, and volunteerism programs at the National Park Foundation.

In light of this leadership change, we took some time to sit down with Gerrard to discuss the personal and professional journey leading him to where he is today and what he sees for the future of Community HealthCorps®.

Anastasia Romanova, Program Specialist (AR): Gerrard, can you tell the field and the readers a little bit about yourself?
GJ: First of all, Anastasia, I am extremely honored to be entrusted with this opportunity to use my skills and abilities to lead this program and the team for which I have so much respect into the next generation of its operation. I am a proud native of central Alabama! I grew up the second oldest of four brothers and a sister to working, but impoverished, parents in rural Shorter, Alabama, just outside of the historic city of Tuskegee. We did not gain access to primary health care until I was entering the 11th grade when my mother began working for the VA Medical Center and received health insurance for the first time. My family’s excitement quickly turned to frustration as my parents learned that paying the monthly premiums did not negate out of pocket medical expenses. Their lack of knowledge on how to best utilize their new insurance benefits often resulted in foregoing the preventive care our family needed.

AR: What motivates you as you enter this next phase of your career?
GJ: My family, upbringing, and an awareness of the power of national service to change lives and address some of the nation’s most pressing problems. I am convinced that if my family had understood how to better utilize their insurance, they could have better managed, maybe even staved off the diabetes and high blood pressure that my father now deals with on a daily basis. I am a husband, father of three, son, brother, and uncle to many—if I can help them understand how to better utilize their health care then I am helping to break cycles in health disparities. I view Community HealthCorps® as a bridge linking millions of medically underserved individuals to the knowledge they need for a healthier future.

GJolly Salud Site VisitFor nearly two decades, I have witnessed the value of AmeriCorps programs like Community HealthCorps® and the tremendous impact their presence in a community can have. While visiting our Program Sites, I have seen firsthand how Community HealthCorps® Members can reach the individuals that may have fallen through the cracks, and truly help them overcome the barriers to accessing the care that they need. It’s impossible not to be inspired listening to alumni of the program talk about how their service experience had a direct influence in shaping their career goals to become the nation’s future leaders in community health and public service.

AR: How did you get to where you are today?
GJ: Thinking back to Booker T. Washington High School in Tuskegee, AL, I learned that “success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” My kids hate it when I tell this story, but my first summer job as a teenager was working in a cotton field 9 hours a day, 5 days a week for $100, but that was the start of my journey in understanding the value of hard work. With the help of a supportive family, many mentors, and tremendous growth and development opportunities, I earned my BA in history from Alabama State University and an MA in U.S. History from the University of Akron. I became a park ranger with the National Park Service to help pay for my education.

AR: What were you doing prior to joining NACHC and Community HealthCorps®?
GJ: I was at the National Park Foundation developing and directing programs focusing on volunteerism, community engagement, the park visitor experience, and the Foundation’s African American Experience Fund. Prior to that I served as a national park ranger, where I was first introduced to national service, in my role supervising several AmeriCorps members serving through the Student Conservation Association. Some of whom I still keep in touch with today and have continued to inspire me for the past 15 years.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI originally came to NACHC and the Community HealthCorps® as the Manager of Program Monitoring & Compliance. In that role, I developed policies and procedures to strengthen the program’s operations, positioning it for further impact and growth. About five years ago, I became the Deputy National Director where I really got an opportunity to see the impact and the potential the national team has to empower our AmeriCorps members in truly making a difference in the lives of individuals and communities they serve.

AR: Have you been able to continue developing yourself throughout your tenure at NACHC?
GJ: Absolutely, NACHC has been incredibly supportive of my growth. I am currently pursuing a Certificate in Nonprofit & National Service Management from the University of Washington in Seattle. In 2013, I was encouraged to apply by my NACHC colleagues and was then selected as an American Express NGen Fellow through Independent Sector’s NGen: Moving Nonprofit Leaders from Next to Now leadership development initiative.  As a Fellow, I helped to shape an important report for the non-profit community – Strategies for Talent Diversity.

AR: Jason Patnosh came into the program during a very challenging time and had to rebuild many aspects of how we developed and monitored our programs. How do you hope to keep the momentum of the program moving in the right direction?
GJ: I am forever grateful for the opportunities that Jason has afforded me to develop personally and professionally. His mentoring, guidance, and friendship have given me the freedom to fail, to learn, and to be fearless when it comes to taking necessary risks to strengthen and grow Community HealthCorps®’ impact. I appreciate the solid footing on which the program has been built under Jason’s leadership. Working closely with our staff here at NACHC, our partners at the Corporation for National & Community Service and in the community health centers, primary care associations, and health center controlled networks, I look forward to charting a path of continued success for Community HealthCorps®.

AR: I actually asked Jason why he thought you were ready for this move. He said:
“Gerrard continues a long belief for the program that we can grow leaders who will do amazing things. Already very accomplished as a past National Park Ranger and non-profit leader, Gerrard has become one of the most respected voices in the movement by his colleagues for his knowledge, leadership, and humor. I have full confidence he will be a transformational leader in the years to come and I will be there to support him along the way.”
GJ: I am humbled and honored for the confidence that he has in me to lead the program at this pivotal 20th year of operation. It is great to know that he is just moving down the hall and that his commitment and support for the program will remain as strong as ever. Since 1995, Community HealthCorps® has engaged over 7,000 individuals to serve over eight million hours directly within the most medically underserved communities in the country. As a part of their service, they have earned over $23 million in scholarship awards allowing them to pursue further education or to pay off prior student loans. Knowing all this inspires me to put forth my utmost effort in continuing the program’s legacy and commitment to grow the next generation of health center leaders.

Jolly is succeeded as Deputy Director by Pamela Ferguson, a 15-year veteran of Community HealthCorps®, serving as the national team’s Director of Program Site Leadership for the past five years. A perfect example of fulfilling the program’s workforce development mission, Pam served two terms as a Community HealthCorps® Member with the Regional Medical Center in Lubec, ME and another four years as the Program Coordinator for the same site, before being brought on as a Program Officer for the national team at NACHC. Look for our interview with Pam over the next couple of weeks.

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The Evolution of a Life Committed to Service

By Jason Patnosh (@CHC_JPatnosh), National Director, Community HealthCorps & Associate Vice President, National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC.)

jpatnosh-headshotOver 15 years ago I started an internship with the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) and the Community HealthCorps. We were only two staff and one intern (me!) with just under 100 AmeriCorps members across eight states. Since then I have served Community HealthCorps in several functions, and as a team with our partners, we have grown the program to 535 AmeriCorps members across 16 states and Washington, DC. For the last eight years I have had the honor to be the National Director for the program. I came in during a rough patch for the program fully committed to ensure its stabilization and longevity. Today, we are a well-oiled machine, that even with our bumps along the way, is agile and responsive to the needs in our health care system.

It has been my honor to be entrusted with this important role and to ensure Community HealthCorps has been a voice in the national service movement. Leading this program has allowed me:

  • the opportunity to be in the presence of President Obama and all of the living Presidents (multiple times), Vice Presidents, and First Ladies;
  • to be at the table to help shape the Edward M Kennedy Serve America Act and work with congressional leaders to shape the future of national service;
  • the chance to work with heroes and mentors so early in my career that it has empowered me to also develop future leaders for the national service movement; and
  • to see America and the impact national service makes in the lives of millions served by community health centers.

gjolly-headshotIt is with great excitement to share that I will be stepping down at the end of this month and that Gerrard Jolly (@JustJolly), our current deputy director, will be stepping into the role of National Director for the Community HealthCorps. Gerrard continues a long belief for the program that we can grow leaders who will do amazing things. Already very accomplished as a past National Park Ranger and non-profit leader, Gerrard has become one of the most respected voices in the movement by his colleagues for his knowledge, leadership, and humor. He has been a leader internally at NACHC and within the AmeriCorps movement—coordinating an affinity group of other health-related AmeriCorps programs and often being asked to speak at conferences. Last year Gerrard was selected as an American Express NGen Fellow through Independent Sector where he helped to shape an important report for the non-profit community – Strategies for Talent Diversity. Gerrard has been a trusted colleague and friend to me personally over his seven years with the program. I have full confidence he will be a transformational leader in the years to come and I will be there to support him along the way. Over the next few weeks Gerrard will further introduce himself and his vision for leading the program into our next 20 years.

During any transition it is often a bittersweet moment for the outgoing leader to give up the day-to-day role with the team. I have had such a great team for so many years and even when there has been transition I have remained close to those who have moved on to other opportunities that I like to say we helped them discover during their time with us. I would be remiss though if I did not single out Pamela Ferguson (our soon to be new Deputy Director). Pam and I have worked together since day one when she was a program coordinator in Lubec, ME for us. When she told me over a decade ago that she was leaving the health center I offered the opportunity to come to NACHC where she has been ever since. Pam’s commitment to this program and the health center movement is an inspiration. She is a tireless champion, an AmeriCorps Alum of this program, and a friend.

I can go on for days about all of the good this program has provided for me, and I hope I have provided at least as much to the program. I am fortunate that I will continue to be with NACHC in a new role focused on development and partnerships. NACHC has provided me an amazing opportunity to help shape a stronger NACHC and health center movement, and I thank Tom Van Coverden, CEO and Dave Taylor, COO, and many others who have supported my trajectory over the last 15 years.

I have committed my life and career to ensure the medically underserved are provided access to primary and preventive health care and I’m thrilled to take on these new adventures.

Thank you and in service to all,


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