By Bethany Hamilton, NACHC Community HealthCorps Program Officer
Meet Codie Vassar, Community HealthCorps’ own citizen-soldier. At first, Codie seems like the ordinary Millennial: 23 years; a 2011 college graduate (the first in his family); with a general desire to serve his community.
Codie had always been an active volunteer in his community, whether it was by providing translation services at a community clinic, serving as a college tutor, or volunteering for the Literacy Network in Madison, WI. It was through his public health internship at the Milwaukee Area Health Education Center (MAHEC), though, that he learned about AmeriCorps. Shortly after his internship, Codie became an AmeriCorps member by joining NACHC’s Community HealthCorps team at Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers in Milwaukee. During his term of service, he was instrumental in helping patients at the Chavez Clinic gain access to necessary medications and ensuring that people received vital information about affordable health care services offered through the community health center.
But, that’s not all! Unbeknownst to many was the significant patriotic commitment Codie fulfilled outside of AmeriCorps. While a full-time Community HealthCorps member, Codie served in the Wisconsin Army National Guard. In fact, for the past six (6) years, Codie has been serving as a citizen-soldier with the 32nd “Red Arrow” Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Charlie Company 2/127th unit out of Fond Du Lac. Codie humbly downplays the significance of his military service by noting that he has not been deployed and those who have been deployed truly deserve the attention, but in the Community HealthCorps we believe his service has been equally noble. Codie confessed that time-management proved challenging, but he was motivated by the belief that his work was meaningful. What keeps him from burning out is his life mantra: “There will always be people with more than you, and there will always be people with less than you, but that doesn’t mean you should stop trying.”
“Whence come I and whither go I?” said author Max Planck. Codie’s life is rich with stories of overcoming traumatic experiences as well as finding value in the unconventional. He describes himself as a biracial child of a teenage mom raised in a multicultural, blended family. He further explains that his upbringing included extreme poverty, with frequent evictions and moving around for survival. The most difficult experience he has had to face was when his Army father returned home from deployment to face an extremely challenging reintegration into civilian life. After many unprovoked confrontations with his father, Codie was forced to leave the house, live out of his car, and eventually live with a friend’s family. It was with his second family – a home steeped in the culture of la República Dominicana – that Codie not only learned Spanish, but was able to thrive. He believes that his “upbringing and life experiences had equipped [him] with many of the unrefined tools that [he] would eventually need to contribute to social justice and healing.”
Through the Community HealthCorps, Codie gained an eye-opening experience into the lives of health center patients; fostered community connections; learned about the community health center delivery model; and, as it relates to his professional goals, learned how physicians advocate for the health of patients. Following his term of service, Codie joined the health center on staff, helping patients apply for and maintain vital public benefits.
Speaking of his career aspirations, Codie modestly revealed that he will be starting medical school at the Medical College of Wisconsin in August, 2013 with the hopes of becoming a family physician, a specialty of medicine that will allow him to consider the social and scientific aspects of health. These career plans should only be expected, as he mentioned in his Community HealthCorps application that he has “learned the importance of seizing an opportunity, and taking advantage of everything that presents itself.”
Is Community HealthCorps an opportunity to be seized by other military members and veterans? According to Codie, yes; he would certainly recommend it as a way to help grow personally and professionally. He notes that skills gained through military service are transferable; at the very least, the military teaches great work ethic and strategic thought processes that can be beneficial to employers. Also, the GI Bill and Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award have provided the economic means to pay for his higher education. At first glance, yes, Codie seems like the archetype of his generation. But, his stalwart dedication to national and community service, in the face of adversity, makes him quite the outstanding and extraordinary Millennial.
To learn more about Community HealthCorps or Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers in Milwaukee, WI, please visit our website at www.communityhealthcorps.org.