Community HealthCorps Celebrates National Health Center Week

By Anastasia Romanova, Program Specialist, NACHC-Community HealthCorps

For more than thirty years, National Health Center Week (NHCW), has served as a weeklong campaign to celebrate the impact of Community Health Centers in delivering high quality, cost effective, and accessible care across the nation. This year’s celebration was especially significant, falling in line with two major milestones, the 50th anniversary of Community Health Centers and the 20th anniversary of Community HealthCorps. In partnership with the National Association of Community Health Centers, the Campaign for America’s Health Centers, the GE Foundation and McKesson, three Community HealthCorps Program Sites hosted NHCW events highlighting the combined positive impact of national service and Community Health Centers. Led by Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps members, each event included a service project benefitting the local community and a program recognizing all of the individuals making the local Community HealthCorps and Community Health Center programs possible. Community HealthCorps National Director, Gerrard Jolly, attended each event to officially present the hosting Community Health Center and/or partner organizations with their AmeriCorps grant award, officially announcing them as 2015-2016 Community HealthCorps Program Sites.  Below are featured highlights from each of the three celebrations.

Grand Rapids, MI
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The nation’s largest Community HealthCorps team–Cherry Health— hosted a back to school health fair. The event brought local families together in an effort to gear up for a healthy start to the upcoming school year. Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps members and Cherry Health staff offered free health screenings, hopscotch and jump roping contests as well as healthy snack and school supply giveaways. Attendees also heard from second-year Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps member, Jaclyn Chandler, Cherry Health Chief Clinical Operations Officer, Tasha Blackman and Gerrard Jolly, on the positive impact generated by the health center movement and Community HealthCorps within the Grand Rapids community. The event was highlighted by local news outlet, WZZM 13 Grand Rapids, in this clip.

Syracuse, NY
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As one of the founding Community HealthCorps Program Sites, Syracuse Community
Health Center hosted a special program highlighting both 50 years of Community Health Centers and 20 years of Community HealthCorps. Led by Syracuse Community Health Center CEO, Leola Rodgers, the event featured representatives from regional and county health departments, who shared local and national proclamations made in support of Community Health Centers. Two of the team’s six Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps members also shared their service experience and the positive impact made possible by combining the mission of national service and health centers.

5“My service year with Community HealthCorps has been the best year of my life,” said Ashley Brown, “After medical school, I will definitely come back to work at a health center, where I know I can truly make a difference.”

Additionally, the event recognized Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps alumni now working as staff at the health center, as well as current and past Community HealthCorps Program Coordinators and Site Supervisors. Throughout National Health Center Week, Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps members also facilitated daily service projects benefitting the local community.

Danbury, CT
The Community HealthCorps team serving with the Community Health Center IMG_0433
Association of Connecticut
(CHCACT) hosted the final National Health Center Week celebration. The two-part event took place at the Connecticut Institute for Communities (CIFC), a service site for two of the team’s 18 AmeriCorps members. In the morning the CHCACT Community HealthCorps team engaged participants of the CIFC Head Start Program in various physical fitness activities and a green smoothie tasting. The afternoon portion was kicked off by CIFC CEO and AmeriCorps VISTA alumnus, James Maloney, emphasizing the importance of the national service experience in developing the leaders of tomorrow:

“Whether it’s through VISTA or Com5munity HealthCorps, AmeriCorps give
s you the opportunity to delve deep within the social services field, equipping you to make an impact both during and after your service year.”

Current Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps member, Rebecca Bonhomme, and alumnus, State Representative David Arconti also shared insights on how the Community HealthCorps program and Community Health Centers have helped inspire their continued desire to serve others.

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To learn more about National Health Center Week, the 50th Anniversary of Health Centers and the 20th Anniversary of Community HealthCorps celebrations across the country, you can follow the #NHCW15, #CHC50 and #HealthCorps20 hashtags on Twitter and Facebook.

Posted in Cherry Health, Community Health Center Association of Connecticut, Community HealthCorps 20th Anniversary, National Health Center Week, Syracuse Community Health Center | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ingredients for a Healthy Future: One AmeriCorps Member, Two Cups Community Engagement, A Tablespoon of Creativity & Lots of Veggies

By Stephanie Clavijo, Community HealthCorps® Member, San Francisco Community Clinic Consortium

TLSt. Anthony’s Medical Clinic stands in the heart of the Tenderloin District, a community in San Francisco facing high rates of drug abuse, poverty, and homelessness. As a Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps member serving with San Francisco Community Clinic Consortium, St. Anthony’s has become my home from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday. Every morning, I walked up the street towards the clinic and passed by liquor stores, smoke shops, and drug dealers that plague the area. Early in my service year, I noticed how these environmental factors manifested themselves as health complications in patients I served. With little access to fresh fruits and vegetables and limited resources for exercise, it was easy to see why many of our patients were overweight and at risk for diabetes and hypertension.

As part of my service role at St Anthony’s, I was assigned to facilitate nutrition counseling and diabetes self-management sessions. After each visit, however, I began noticing a reoccurring theme: patients needed to incorporate more vegetables in their diet but were not sure how. As a health educator, I began to ask:

“How can we make healthy eating a more attainable goal?”

The answer was clear. Instead of telling patients to eat healthy, why not show them? With the support from staff, we began hosting a cooking class where participants learned affordable, easy, and nutritious recipes. I purchased ingredients from supermarkets accessible to patients and kept recipes within a $20 budget. We wanted to introduce new cuisines, but we also realized it was important to take staple foods from different cultures and show how those ingredients could be modified to create healthier alternatives.

SFCCC-Stephanie-CookingClass3What began as a class of 2-3 patients in the clinic’s break room grew to a class of 15-17 in a large classroom. From tofu ceviche to eggplant lasagna and sweet potato pancakes to whole-wheat tortillas, the class experimented a variety of recipes. Every 2 weeks, I saw the same women return to class, some even bringing family and friends. The class became a community where patients felt comfortable sharing their own health tips amongst peers and learning from one another. Some participants even shared with me their experiences testing the recipes at home, and I felt humbled knowing that the cooking continued outside of class. I realized at the end of my service year that we did more than just create a cooking class—we created an environment where patients gained autonomy over their health and felt a sense of belonging within the Tenderloin community.

This project, along with the patient relationships I’ve developed over the course of SFCCC-Stephanie-CookingClassthe past year, convinced me to apply to serve with Community HealthCorps® for a second year. Next year at St. Anthony’s, I hope to continue hosting the cooking class and even begin coordinating a cooking series for children. My ultimate goal is to have the women share their own recipes in class and explain to their peers why they believe the dish is healthy. I know I have plenty of work ahead of me, but with my patients as my motivation, I am willing to go the extra mile.

Posted in AmeriCorps, Community Health Center, community healthcorps, national service, Social Determinants of Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Serving Health Centers Through Community HealthCorps

This post was originally published on the Blog Page of the National Association of Community Health Centers, the parent organization for Community HealthCorps®, on Thursday, July 2, 2015. 

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We’re celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Community Health Center Movement with a special focus on workforce throughout the month of July. Today we begin with a closer look at Community HealthCorps®, the largest health-focused AmeriCorps program founded by NACHC  in 1995 with the mission of improving healthcare access and boosting the health center workforce.  Community HealthCorps® Program Specialist Anastasia Romanova is today’s blogger.  She interviews Ariella Camera, a Community HealthCorps® Alum and 2013 Presidential Management Fellow about her experiences in the program and life thereafter.

AR: When and where did you complete your AmeriCorps term with Community HealthCorps®?
AC: I served with Community HealthCorps® from 2009-2010, right after graduating from Pennsylvania State University, at Hudson River HealthCare (HRHCARE) in Haverstraw, NY, which is just a few miles away from where I grew up in Rockland County, NY.

AriellaCamera and Olga Escobar Honduras Global Brigades

Ariella with Olga Escobar in Honduras during her Global Brigades trip.

AR: Why did you decide to join Community HealthCorps®?
AC: I got hooked on the idea of public service in high school while volunteering at the Rockland County Department of Health with Reality Check on the anti-tobacco movement. In college I had the opportunity to volunteer internationally with Global Brigades, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering student volunteers and under-resourced communities to resolve global health and economic disparities. I considered the Peace Corps but AmeriCorps, specifically Community HealthCorps®, was a better fit because I really wanted to go back home and serve my local community. As a Biobehavioral Health major, I also wanted to apply what I learned in my studies at Penn State to make a direct impact in the health of a community and to connect my knowledge of healthcare with actual community needs.

AriellaCamera Patti Dale Americorps Habitat Humanity Service Day

Ariella and Community HealthCorps Program Coordinator Patti Dale

AR: What did you do in your service?
AC: My service site was unique because, at the time, it was transitioning from a mobile clinic to a traditional health center. This transition gave me the opportunity to assist in building a partnership with the community center across the street and with other local stakeholders within the community. Half of my time was spent directly in the health center providing patients with referrals to anything from specialty care, like vision, to community resources, like food pantries. When I wasn’t in the health center, I was at the community center where I mostly worked with the local youth and led health education classes.

AR: What do you feel is the biggest impact you made during your service?
AC: Several of my Community HealthCorps® teammates and I had the opportunity to create and facilitate a mentorship program at a local high school in Peekskill. Being able to bond with the local students after school on a regular basis was not only incredibly rewarding but gave us a chance to see the positive impact we could have on our students just from being there to listen and encourage them to aim high.

HRHcare 2009 Americorps members at a Food Drive with the Nyack Homeless ...

Ariella with her Community HealthCorps team helping at a food drive with the Nyack Homeless Project.

AR: What do you recall as the biggest challenge you had to overcome during your service?
AC: I would say my two biggest challenges also gave me an opportunity to truly understand the population I was serving and further develop my passion for increasing access to quality health care.  Throughout my service term, in order to afford rent and other expenses, I had to pick up two other part-time jobs in addition to serving full-time. Living paycheck-to-paycheck and having almost no down time, was one of toughest aspects of my service, but it definitely brought me closer to the patients I served in the health center and the realities of trying to survive off of an income that was below the poverty line. As an AmeriCorps member, I also had very basic health insurance, which made it much more difficult to access specialty care. This helped me empathize with the many people with whom I interacted and served that were in the same situation and something that made me infinitely more grateful and dedicated to my service.

AR: What do you feel is your biggest take away from your service experience?AC: I can narrow it down to two things. The first would be how critical Community Health Centers are to this country’s healthcare system. During my service, I witnessed firsthand how crucial the health center where I served was for its patients and the nearby communities. It didn’t take long to see that, if Hudson River HealthCare did not exist, the families of that community would likely be unable to meet their basic health needs and would be hard-pressed to find quality healthcare providers truly invested in their well-being. The second would be how important it is to build partnerships and leverage local stakeholders within the community to get involved with the health center initiatives and activities, in order to make a sustainable impact.

AR: How did your service affect the choices you made regarding your professional goals?
AC: Looking back now, my experience as a Community HealthCorps® Member gave me direct exposure to the community health field and allowed me to interact with and understand the needs of real life patients and community members. It most definitely helped me get to where I am today and continues to be the foundation of what drives me to stay motivated to serve.

AriellaCamera USAID ASSIST Project Ivukula Health Center QI Team, Uganda...

Ariella during her USAID Global Health Bureau assignment.

After Community HealthCorps®, I wanted to continue in public service as a government employee and started working in the clinical psychiatric research department for the Boston Veteran Affairs Healthcare System. Through my participation in the Boston AmeriCorps Alums chapter, I learned about the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, and pursued my MA in Sustainable International Development. In my second year of graduate school I decided to apply to the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF).

In my first year as a PMF, I had the unique opportunity to support the development and implementation of the Federally Facilitated Marketplace as a part of the Affordable Care Act rollout. Recently, I finished a 5-month rotation with USAID Global Health Bureau focusing on strengthening health care systems and improving quality of care internationally. It has been an unbelievable year to say the least; I felt like I came full circle, getting to be a part of healthcare history in the making and fulfilling a passion for increasing access and strengthening health care systems.

*The views expressed above belong solely to Ariella Camera, and do not represent the official views of the federal government.

Posted in AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps Alums, community healthcorps, National Association of Community Health Centers, national service, Workforce Development | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment