Serving for a Worthy Cause

By Nicole Hanlon, 2013-2014 Community HealthCorps® Member, Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers

In honor of this Saturday’s National HIV Testing Day, Community HealthCorps® would like to shine a light on the great work our AmeriCorps members do to promote HIV/AIDS awareness & testing and provide overall support to individuals affected by or living with HIV/AIDS. The story featured below, written by Community HealthCorps® alum Nicole Hanlon, demonstrates one of many scenarios in which our AmeriCorps members provide crucial support and guidance to an individual facing a potentially life-changing moment tied to getting tested for HIV.

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2013-2014 Community HealthCorps®- Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers Team (Nicole pictured far right).

Over the course of the past five months of service with the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, I have educated, tested, and counseled a number of individuals on HIV in a variety of settings. This is nothing that I ever would have imagined I would have been a part of, but am lucky that I have the opportunity to do so. Coming into this experience, I knew very little about HIV, but through reading, teaching, and talking to individuals living with the virus, I have learned a lot. I am able to see firsthand the stigma and fear that is associated with HIV/AIDS, much of which, to me, seems to be present because of the lack of education around the topic. Being able to make a dent in potentially eliminating this stigma, even on the smallest scale, is something I have been passionate about in the past with other topics and am happy I have been given the opportunity to do with HIV.

Recently, I encountered a woman who further reinforced that the service I am doing is worthwhile. She walked into the testing room, and I could see that she was hesitant about getting tested. Her movement was slow, her posture tense, and her face said it all. The amount of fear in this woman’s eyes was not something you see too often. Upon inviting her to sit down, and before doing the test, we talked about her reasons for getting tested and addressed her evident, overwhelming trepidation. She broke down. I was informed of her previous behaviors and learned of an incident that occurred last summer: the main source of her fear. Last June she found herself in a situation that led to her being raped by two men that she did not know. After a trip to the hospital, it was brought to her attention that the possibility is there that she could have been exposed to a number of different things, one of which being HIV. But she did not want to know. What if she was exposed? What does that mean for her future? Her family? Her children? She didn’t want her life to be cut short.

It took over 6 months to build up the courage to face what had been haunting her every day and finally get tested. Once the test was given, we waited. This must have been the longest 15 minutes of this woman’s life. She kept repeating, “I did it. I cannot believe I did it,” along with “I just don’t want it to come back positive.” After a couple of minutes, she decided she wanted to wait somewhere away from the test and asked if I could call her back in when the results were ready.

At the end of the 15 minutes, I was happy to tell her results: non-reactive. She broke down crying once again as I joked, “I’m guessing those are tears of joy.” She smiled and laughed for the first time in the 20 minutes I was with her. A weight was lifted off her shoulder that day, a weight that had been crushing her for half a year previously. She thanked me for making her feel comfortable, gave me a hug, and left the room—not with fear as was the case upon entering, but with relief and joy. Seeing and experiencing this has reinforced that I am doing something rewarding, worthwhile, and am making a difference, even if it is in just a small population. You never know what may start a chain reaction.

Posted in community healthcorps, HIV Awareness, Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, National HIV Testing Day | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fan Mail

By Julia Moy & Gabriela Canjura, Community HealthCorps Members, Metro Community Provider Network

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Community HealthCorps Members and “Health Nuts,” Gabriela Canjura and Julia Moy in action

In their service as Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps members, Julia and Gabriela serve on the School-based Health Education team with Metro Community Provider Network (MCPN) in Lakewood, Colorado serving students at three schools where MCPN has school-based health centers. Known as the “Health Nuts” at the elementary school where they serve, their role is to educate and mentor students about all aspects of health–physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual–through classroom lessons, small group work, and chatting with students at lunch. Recently, Julia and Gaby received a piece of “fan mail” from one of their students, inspiring them to write a poem highlighting special moments like receiving gratitude from a student making their AmeriCorps service experience unforgettable.

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One day we walked into a 3rd grade class,
To teach a lesson about safety that would not be the last.
We were greeted by a student with a smile on her face,
Who handed us a piece of paper with much haste.
“I have written you two a very special letter,
To let you know that no one can do what you two do better.”
“I just wanted to say, without further delay,
That the health lessons you teach are quite the display.”
This really did catch us by surprise,
A thoughtful act that brought tears to our eyes.
It was a handwritten letter addressed to two Mrs.,
Signed with X’s and O’s representing hugs and kisses.
In the letter she spoke of us with much praise,
“You guys are really fun and nice” was the exact phrase.
She told us of the lessons that she liked the best,
Although none of them did she seem to detest.
The lessons we taught on how to be a good friend,
She said were her very favorite to attend.
She thanked us for all of the knowledge we shared,
And to us it meant the world to know that she cared.
Thinking about this letter still makes me smile,
Just knowing that she thinks the lessons are worth while.
I never would have thought that this position would entail,
Receiving my very first piece of fan mail.

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Fan Mail

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Large Lessons from a Man with Little

By Khyla Burrows, Community HealthCorps® Member, Salud Family Health Centers

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Community HealthCorps Member Khyla Burrows, on what serving with Community HealthCorps means to her

A great advantage of serving as a Community HealthCorps® Member at Salud Family Health Centers in Colorado is the opportunity to engage in many different types of service projects. As a team we have been involved in a large variety of events with a wide range of populations, locations and goals. Earlier this month, we participated in an eye-opening and powerful community event called Project Homeless Connect in Fort Collins, Colorado. This event took place early on a Friday morning at a recreation center and was advertised to all people currently experiencing homelessness in the Fort Collins area, with the goal being to connect people to community resources that may assist them with different types of needs. The event coordinator told us that today the people experiencing homelessness would be our teachers while we were the students, as they had much they could teach us.

Each volunteer at the event was paired with a person experiencing homelessness to guide them through the event and ensure each available resource could be visited. I was paired up with Tony*, a man with an ever-present smile who turned out to be as inspirational as the event itself. I described the setup of the event to Tony to see what services he might be interested in; these ranged from a mobile medical clinic to a haircutting station to housing and job assistance. Tony knew right away that he didn’t need a medical or dental appointment and that he wanted to look through the donated clothing and shoes for articles that would be more appropriate for the upcoming summer months. As we walked around the booths, which provide assistance such as information on obtaining a cell phone, HIV/AIDS screening and legal services, Tony told me about his life and how he had come to be homeless. With great pride and some sadness in his voice, he reflected about his time in the U.S Army, being outed as being gay and being discharged. This adverse situation left him unable to easily receive veteran benefits and was left ostracized from a community and organization he had once felt so passionate about.

We then visited a veteran’s booths, which offered helpful services to all veterans, but only with proof of discharge. Upon visiting the booth, it became apparent that Tony was missing several key papers necessary to take advantage of the services provided at the event due to his current living situation. Remarkably, as we realized that Tony would be unlikely to produce these papers, he remained in good spirits and determined to explore other services that may be able to assist him.

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Community HealthCorps Member, Kyhla Burrows, and her teammates serving at the Project Homeless Connect event

Of the many stations at the event, the most memorable was the photo portrait station. Efforts for serving the homeless population are typically centered on providing fundamental necessities such as housing assistance, food and clothing. While the event supplied tremendous opportunity to gain better access to these amenities, it was commendable to see something offered that is so simple, yet significant as an opportunity to take photos. After watching a large family take a family portrait, Tony got eleven pictures of himself to remember the event and share with his friends. Tony was incredibly excited about the pictures and thoroughly appreciated the thoughtfulness of the organization to have the station available.

After we had visited each station I asked Tony to complete a short survey about the event with the purpose of determining whether any service should be added to the lineup in future years. Tony, being as gracious of a man as he is, politely obliged and gave me meaningful feedback on what services he appreciated the most. The last question was, “What was the best part of the event?” To which he answered without hesitation, “You. You made my day by being here with me.” I was moved by his candid response and easily responded that he was the best part of my day too. Just as the coordinator had predicted at the beginning of the day, Tony had become my teacher and I, the student. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to spend time Tony as he had taught me so much about resilience and maintaining a positive outlook on life.

*Name changed to protect individual’s privacy.

Posted in AmeriCorps, community healthcorps, Memorial Day, Project Homeless Connect, Salud Family Health Centers, veterans | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment