20 Years in the Making – AmeriCorps’ Shared Sense of a National Community

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

This week marks the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps and President Barack Obama will be joined by Presidents George H.W. Bush, William J. Clinton, and George W. Bush to celebrate their bipartisan commitment to national service and volunteerism. I have enjoyed being part of this movement for the past 15 years and at the helm of the Community HealthCorps for the past eight. Even prior to joining the Community HealthCorps I volunteered side-by-side with AmeriCorps members in Plainfield, NJ as EMTs on the local rescue squad—supported 100% through AmeriCorps and volunteer efforts at the time.

What many don’t know is that my father ran that AmeriCorps program through New Jersey City University in addition to running a Youth Corps program that helped young African-American and Hispanic men and women from NJ’s northern inner cities attain their GED and work skills. So, you can say AmeriCorps has been in my blood since the beginning, and both my mother and father have instilled a belief that you give back to your community for all they have given you.

The Community HealthCorps is also thrilled to launch its 20th class this year. Started by the National Association of Community Health Centers and a small group of community health centers at eight sites with only about 80 members in 1995, the program has grown to 535 full-time members across 40 sites and over 200 service locations nationwide. To learn more about the program’s impact over the past 20 years click on the image below for an enlarged version of the Community HealthCorps 20th Anniversary poster, featured at NACHC’s 2014 Community Health Institute.

Community HealthCorps 20th Anniversary Poster

Community HealthCorps has not only become a pipeline for over 7,000 individuals to embark on their careers in health and social services, but its impact has helped millions of Americans improve their access and utilization of health care services. Most recently, the program has committed to improve financial and health insurance literacy of health center patients and has partnered with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to train all of our AmeriCorps members on their new Your Money, Your Goals curriculum to empower individuals in personal financial management.

For the past two years, I have served as co-chair for Voices for National Service and, as we look to our future as part of AmeriCorps, I am hopeful that bipartisanship support will continue to fuel support for this program. This week, Community HealthCorps was featured as part of Voices’ release of “I Will Get Things Done for America—Celebrating 20 Years of AmeriCorps”. Serving one’s country, whether through the military, Peace Corps, or AmeriCorps, should never be a partisan issue.

Finally, AmeriCorps must always remember its roots, “Getting Things Done”. Simple, concise, and directly to the point. The ability to serve one’s community and country does not look at how many degrees someone may have, the color of their skin, who they may love, or how they pray—it is an expectation we should have for all.

A personal hero of mine dating back to when I first did a book report on her in the 5th grade is Congresswoman Barbara Jordan of Texas. She said so many powerful things over her life that ended too soon, but one sticks out to me the most as we look towards the next 20 years of AmeriCorps.

“We must address and master the future together. It can be done if we restore the belief that we share a sense of national community, that we share a common national endeavor. It can be done.”

Community HealthCorps restores the hope every day for someone to lead a healthier life, to gain access to health care for their children, to improve their financial well-being over time, and to recognize they are part of a larger movement to do great things for their community and for America.

Posted in 20th Anniversary of AmeriCorps, community healthcorps, Corporation for National and Community Service, National Association of Community Health Centers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“HealthyPregnancies” are Healthy Futures

By Liz Hovel and Erin McGlynn, Community HealthCorps® Members, Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers (SSCHC), Milwaukee

Each year, over 200,000 women in the United States develop gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) during their pregnancy. Racial and ethnic disparities are rampant in GDM; Hispanic/Latino Americans, African Americans, and American Indians are especially at risk. As AmeriCorps members serving with Community HealthCorps in Chronic Care (Liz) and Women’s Wellness (Erin), we noticed the prevalence of GDM in our culturally diverse Milwaukee community and were motivated to do something about it.

Gestational diabetes programming at SSCHC, was started five years ago by Myriam Olivera, and is currently coordinated by Carmen Cosme. According to Carmen, GDM offerings have historically been “very educational but missing the fun part of movement.” As fitness enthusiasts, we saw the perfect opportunity to get involved! Capitalizing on our collective experiences in exercise and nutrition, we dedicated ourselves to the creation of “HealthyPregnancies,” our innovative and multi-dimensional prenatal program that we believe will contribute to healthy futures for moms and babies in Milwaukee’s south side.

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Liz & Erin posing with “HealthyPregnancy” Participants!

We knew that it would be a cooperative effort to develop a class that best helps our patients prevent and manage GDM. Carmen is an excellent mentor, and in true community health center style, a variety of SSCHC staff members from midwives to nutritionists have been our best resources throughout this process. As Community HealthCorps® teammates, we also find ourselves in a unique position to collaborate across departments. Our interdisciplinary partnership combines the diabetes expertise of Chronic Care staff and a strong connection with the patients most at risk for GDM via Women’s Wellness.

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Erin & Liz teaching yoga to “HealthyPregnancy” participants.

During the program development, we considered the social determinants of health for our patient base in order to accommodate the increasingly diverse population served by SSCHC. For example, our class is bilingual so that Spanish and English speakers can equally benefit, free so that financial barriers are eliminated for all patients, and offered in two locations complete with child enrichment (thanks to Community HealthCorps teammate Bethany Canales) so that patients without transportation or child care can attend. During our class, we also debunk myths about “eating for two” and “avoiding all exercise” during pregnancy, which are common due to lack of education.

On October 11, “HealthyPregnancies/EmbarazosSaludables” was born! The program was “brought to life by our Community HealthCorps® Members in collaboration with myself,” Carmen says. Since then, we have been offering hour-long classes during which we lead our patients in dynamic stretching, low-impact dance aerobics, and prenatal yoga. The class also features themed nutrition education and the occasional healthy snack.

Community HealthCorps Member, Bethany, engages a "HealthyPregnancy" participant.

SSCHC Diabetes Educator, Carmen Cosme, engaging with a “HealthyPregnancy” participant.

Our regular participants love having such a comprehensive class made comfortable for pregnant women to meet and support one another; several of them have already delivered healthy, full term babies! In turn, we have been empowered by the opportunity to make a positive difference in their lives and will be stronger health care providers in the future because of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in AmeriCorps, community healthcorps, gestational diabetes mellitus, national service, pregnancy, service, Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, Social Determinants of Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reflections on the Community HealthCorps Service Experience: Finding Perspective

By Reina Amiling, Community HealthCorps® Member, Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County (CCALAC)

‘So how can I get into your program?’
‘I haven’t volunteered in forever. I want to start again.’
‘I’m going to help at the Food Bank. Wanna come?’

These snippets of conversations I had with friends are allowing me to view my year of service through a different lens. As Community HealthCorps® Members, we are so caught up in the daily routine of our service positions, that we forget how privileged we are to be in this program in the first place.

Community HealthCorps® positions are competitive; statistics have shown that the amount of people applying for AmeriCorps has increased substantially in the past couple years, and the amount of AmeriCorps positions has not changed to accommodate the influx (click here to read more on the rising number of AmeriCorps applicants versus available positions). Furthermore, we have been given the opportunity to positively impact underserved communities through avenues that may not have been open to us upon graduating college. It is very difficult for new graduates to find positions in non-profits that allow one to be immersed in community mobilization, program management, and capacity building projects (click here to read more about national service and youth unemployment). Community HealthCorps® slipped us into these positions, offering a unique glimpse into the world of community health centers.

Not only are we part of a well-respected organization, we made a pledge to serve the underserved. The nature of our positions allows us to work directly with community organizations and the community itself, in order to improve its overall health. Thus, we experience the gratification and happiness of helping a community every week (for some, more than that) through some event or type of one-on-one interaction. This direct service that many working adults lack in their day jobs, often prompting them to look for opportunities to do such activities on the weekends, is our full-time commitment.

Is our work a challenge? Yes, very much so. Does it sometimes require us to work evenings and weekends? Yup, more often than not. Is living in solidarity with those who are in the lower-income bracket easier said than done? Of course.

But have we gained skills that will help us be successful in the non-profit sector, community organizations, and the field of health and medicine in general? Definitely (click here to read more about volunteering as a pathway to employment). Are we leaving Community HealthCorps® with a greater understanding of different communities and socioeconomic statuses? Absolutely. And do we have unforgettable experiences that have transformed us to be empathetic and informed members of society? Without a doubt.

Entering the last quarter of my Community HealthCorps® service, I need to remember the uniqueness of this experience and take advantage of all the opportunities it has to offer.

Posted in AmeriCorps, Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County, Community Health Centers, community healthcorps, Corporation for National and Community Service, National Association of Community Health Centers, national service, service, volunteer | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment