The Forgotten Kid

By Grace Schierberl, Community HealthCorps® Member, East Boston Neighborhood Health Center

As a Community HealthCorps® Member with the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC), one of my service placements is with the Let’s Get Movin’ program. This program engages overweight and obese adolescents, age 8-11, in an afterschool lifestyle change program that promotes healthy eating, physical fitness and nutrition education. After six months of interacting closely with obese children, I have learned that a child’s fitness level is equally important as their self-perception, and, often, the two are directly related, as I saw with *Michael.

I first noticed Michael as he walked into the gym with a smooth confidence despite his young age and overweight physique. I called him over to discuss the program’s goal of getting healthier and stronger, a conversation quite typical for most kids on their first day at Let’s Get Movin’. Within seconds, I noticed that he was participating in the warm-up game. Most kids, shy and embarrassed about their bodies, cling to the coach’s side or try to remain as invisible as possible on the first day. But Michael isn’t most kids. A few minutes later, I brought Michael into a private room to complete a survey necessary for our program’s research. The last page of the survey asks a list of questions regarding a child’s self-perception and if they wish they were someone else. One of the questions asks if the child believes him or herself to be the type of kid that stands on the sidelines during a sport and watches or the type of kid who participates and plays to the fullest. I noticed Michael was struggling with this question and didn’t bubble in his answer with the ease that came so naturally with the other questions. He looked at me and asked, “I’m the type of kid who wants to play, but no one ever lets me. What should I put?” In an attempt to stay as emotionally neutral as possible, I instructed him to answer the question however he felt was most true. My heart sunk as I saw him bubble in that he sits on the sidelines.

Let’s Get Movin’ youth participants in action during this year’s basketball unit!

I was compelled to apply to be an AmeriCorps member with EBNHC’s Community HealthCorps® program because of my interest in public health and learning more about the risks associated with obesity. Throughout college, I had learned about hypertension, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and asthma in textbooks. But, after six months of service, I’ve realized obesity, especially for children, encompasses much more than a BMI on a medical chart. Being a 10-year-old is challenging, let alone being a 10-year-old with a serious weight problem. The majority of kids who participate in Let’s Get Movin’ have improved their fitness levels over the past few months; they can run more laps and hold a plank for twice as long. As incredible as that is, it is equally important to recognize the change in self-perception that directly correlates with an improved level of fitness. Let’s Get Movin’ is much more than a program dedicated to nutrition and fitness. This program provides a space where kids, who are often forgotten on the playground and bullied into not playing at recess, are thought of as teammates, as friends and as champions of change.

My experience working with this young, underserved population of overweight and obese children has shaped my perspective on public health and better prepared me to pursue a Masters in Public Health in the upcoming years. Inspired by Michael’s pursuit to improve his self-image, I now understand health not through the lens of statistics, but through names and experiences.

*Name changed for confidentiality.


Posted in AmeriCorps, Childhood Obesity Prevention, community healthcorps, East Boston Neighborhood Health Centers, Let's Get Movin', national service, service, volunteer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Volunteers Make an Impact Every Day in Health Centers

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

Re-posted from the Blog page of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC.)

Community Health Centers were built on the backs of volunteer community organizers and clinicians nearly 50 years ago.  Today, volunteers continue to play an important role in health centers across the country.  During the week of April 6-12, 2014 America celebrates National Volunteer Week.  At the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), we also celebrate the thousands of volunteers who help health centers in three very important ways.

First, the majority of health center volunteers help health centers extend their services to the community.   They read to children in waiting rooms  or develop fundraising campaigns.  Their manpower is deeply appreciated.

Additionally, NACHC has been home to the Community HealthCorps, one of the largest AmeriCorps national service programs in the nation. Each year over 500 individuals provide a year of service in a Community Health Center and many of these AmeriCorps members help to recruit other volunteers for the health centers. In fact, over the last two years 14,404 volunteers were mobilized by AmeriCorps members. These volunteers served 81,484 hours for an estimated value of $1,786,830.[1]

Finally, all health center board members, a majority of whom are also patients of the health centers, are all volunteers and dedicate countless hours to ensure necessary medical and social services are provided to their fellow community residents. These board members commit to multiple years of service, travel to state and national conferences to represent their health center and serve as the voice for their health center in countless meetings with state and federal legislators.

NACHC is pleased to use this occasion to release a new resource: Community Health Center Volunteer Experiences. This one-pager will provided interested volunteers a brief background on Community Health Centers and how to seek a volunteer experience at a local health center.

While we recognize Volunteer Week we encourage you to thank your volunteers every day!

[1] Estimated value of volunteer time for 2012 is $22.14/hour

Posted in AmeriCorps, Community Health Centers, community healthcorps, NACHC, national service, National Volunteer Week, service, volunteer | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Full Circle with Dr. Brian Hilgeman, Community HealthCorps® Alum

By Bethany Canales, Community HealthCorps® Member, Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers

After a year of service with Community HealthCorps®, medical school, and clinical rotations, Dr. Brian Hilgeman finds himself exactly where he started—at Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Most people know him as “Dr. Hilgeman,” but some still remember the days when he was simply referred to as “Brian.”

Like many children, Brian looked up to his parents and was inspired to become a doctor by his father, who is also a physician. Combined with his interests in biology and humanity, going to medical school and becoming a doctor seemed the obvious choice. Yet it was another choice that makes Brian’s story so special. After being admitted to medical school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he decided to defer and instead departed on a year of service with Community HealthCorps® as a Diabetes Health Educator at Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers. An experience described by Brian as “the best year of his life,” which ultimately cemented his decision to go to medical school.

Dr. Brian Hilgeman with Guadalupe Maldonado, Sixteenth Street patient, and Eida Berrios, Diabetes Educator at Sixteenth Street and Brian’s Site Supervisor during his service term!

Serving at Sixteenth Street provided Brian with far more than exposure to the medical field. Because of  the health center’s diverse patient population, he not only learned about diabetes and general patient care, but also how to best deliver care to individuals with varying needs. For most people, providing health education to patients from a different culture, and in a second-language, would seem daunting, but not for this self-acclaimed “city boy.” Growing up on the outskirts of Milwaukee, Brian was familiar with cultural and urban issues and saw this position as an opportunity to learn more about the medical field and simultaneously exercise his Spanish language skills.

During medical school, Brian came back to Sixteenth Street as part of Training in Urban Medicine and Public Health (TRIUMPH), an innovative program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison committed to providing health care for urban populations and reducing health disparities. As part of TRIUMPH, Brian had to complete a community health initiative project. He conducted research on tobacco use in the Southside of Milwaukee, observing that local use was at a very high rate. As a result, he recommended that Sixteenth Street implement a tobacco cessation program, which later became a reality.

Upon graduation—with a medical degree under his belt—Brian once again returned to Sixteenth Street, this time as Dr. Hilgeman. For him, Community HealthCorps® was an essential part of his education and decision to work with medically underserved populations as a physician. Not only did his year as a health educator prepare him for medical school, but he also mastered how to interact with people—a crucial skill in successful doctoring. Serving at Sixteenth Street allowed Brian to develop a sense of what a community health center is and how one operates, while also learning about social determinants of health, patient motivation, cultural competency and sensitivity.

Dr. Brian Hilgeman with Bethany Canales, current Community HealthCorps® Member and author of this blog!

Brian’s story is a shining example of how AmeriCorps provides individuals with invaluable experience in a particular field, like health care or education. Every day I witness my fellow Community HealthCorps® Members work toward their own futures, while serving those in need. They are fulfilling their own dreams, experiencing vibrant and diverse cultures, and encouraging people to maintain control of their health. I am proud to have an opportunity to follow in Dr. Hilgeman’s footsteps through AmeriCorps. Sixteenth Street allowed him to truly grow as a person and a professional—first as a Community HealthCorps® Member and health educator, then as a student researcher, and now as a doctor.

Posted in AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps Alums, community healthcorps, national service, Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, Wisconsin, Workforce Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment