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

Running Buddies

By Gabrielle Witham, Community HealthCorps® Member, East Boston Neighborhood Health Center

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2014-2015 Let’s Get Movin’ participants and Community HealthCorps® Member coaches

Helping to build community around exercise and healthy eating has been one of the best parts about serving for the Let’s Get Movin’ program as a part of my role with Community HealthCorps®. Let’s Get Movin’ is a lifestyle change program for obese children and teens that have been referred by their pediatricians. Our primary focus is the after-school program, a two hour physical activity session that includes cardio, strength exercises, and a rotation of sports.

The idea of community is especially important among the population we serve; many are immigrants who are separated from family members, and having a sense of community in a new and unfamiliar place is essential to maintaining their emotional and physical health. Something we teach in parent nutrition classes—that I have seen happen countless times throughout my service—is that good habits are easier to keep when you are surrounded by other people working towards the same goal and trying to develop that same habit. In the case of this story, it is the habit of becoming a physically active parent and a role model for one’s kids.

There are many barriers to health and access to physical activity in the community served by East Boston Neighborhood Health Centers, and a major goal of Let’s Get Movin’ programming is to make exercise accessible and enjoyable to the families we serve. In preparation for our annual 5K run/walk, we offer weekend running groups to families on Friday evening and Saturday mornings so that Let’s Get Movin’ participants, their siblings, and their parents can come together and exercise. These groups help everyone gradually build up to running a 5K and make the concept of running 3.1 miles more manageable.

One particularly motivated Let’s Get Movin’ family attends every session without fail. Mom comes with her six-month-old daughter, five-year-old son, nine-year-old son, and occasionally a teenaged niece. Whether Mom is pushing the carriage as she runs around the track and down to the East Boston Greenway or leaves her niece in charge of the infant, she is working hard to become faster, fitter, and a better role model for her children.When I ask her eldest son if he is proud of his mom, he always says yes.

“It’s easier for me to eat healthy and exercise, because my mom knows those things are important, and she does them too,” he tells me.

The 5K is an exciting event to look forward to, but it also marks the end of the training sessions. This is something Mom told me she is worried about.

“What am I going to do after they’re over?” she asks. “It is so much easier to be motivated to run when you have other people running with you.”

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Community HealthCorps Member, Gabrielle Witham, and one of her Let’s Get Movin’ running buddies completing a race together.

But she’s been thinking of ways around it, now that she knows how good her family feels when they are outside exercising. At the training sessions, she has been talking to another mom from an equally motivated Let’s Get Movin’ family that she met through the program. They both agreed that exercise is more fun when you have a buddy, and they are planning to start running together once the 5K is over. The training sessions ignited the fire, and they don’t want it to burn out, so they plan to try to meet every day to run parts of the 5K course.

This is such an important example of how two less-thought-of determinants of health, social support and self-empowerment to take charge of one’s own health, are so easily addressed with programming like Let’s Get Movin’. They say “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” I’d say give a man (or a woman) a buddy to fish with, and maybe he or she will actually enjoy going fishing.

Posted in AmeriCorps, community healthcorps, East Boston Neighborhood Health Centers, Let's Get Movin', Physical Fitness and Sports Month | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding Alma’s Glasses

By Nicolai Wallace, Community HealthCorps® Member, Sea Mar Community Health Centers

IMG_8982As a Community HealthCorps® Member with Sea Mar Community Health Centers I serve as a Patient Navigator. My role includes helping patients find affordable medicine, childcare, counseling, legal services, assistance paying bills and translating documents. This position can be difficult as I am not always able to link my patients to the resources they need, but when I do it is very rewarding. Knowing that I helped facilitate care that is essential to a patient maintaining their health is one of the best parts of my AmeriCorps service, which is why Alma’s story will stay with me for a long time.

I met Alma several months ago when she came into the health center where I serve looking to get some glasses. She had a full pregnant belly, two little kids, and no health insurance. She said she lived across the street from the clinic and that she had already used up her free yearly eye exam provided by the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. I didn’t ask her what happened to her last pair of glasses; the important thing was that they were gone, and she was having trouble seeing.

Alma was quiet and looked uninterested as we discussed the situation at my desk. But despite that, I gathered the facts and tried to come up with a plan. She needed two things: an eye exam and then glasses. I planned to write her a letter to get free glasses at Lens Crafters, but for that to work, she needed an eye exam which costs about $130 without insurance. After two births and a third on the way, Alma and her husband were in debt, and $130 for an eye exam was not an option. So I told Alma I would try to find another way to get her glasses and would call her once I sorted things out.

I looked around the city for a cheap eye exam and finally found a charity program that offers eye exams for $30 out of the basement of a Baptist Church in the Central District. When I called to set up an appointment, they said that she would need a translator to accompany her.  Since I help with interpretation for patients as a part of my service, and felt a strong connection to Alma, I agreed to be the translator and took their first available appointment for a month out.

I called Alma about 10 times trying to reach her to tell her about the appointment. After learning that her phone was disconnected—she didn’t have enough money to keep it—I called her sister. Unfortunately, she never passed my messages along. Luckily, I ran into Alma on the street and was able to tell her about the appointment. She agreed to go, but seemed skeptical about the entire process.

I drove out to the church early in the morning, slightly worried that Alma wouldn’t show up. I walked around the outside of the church trying to find the entrance; the door was barely marked. I went in, and there was Alma sitting at a folding table waiting to be seen. She looked genuinely surprised to see me, as if she was equally worried that I wouldn’t show up. She said she had tried to check in but couldn’t understand the receptionist. Then she smiled and laughed.

I translated for her during the exam, and it turned out she was almost blind. I have no idea how she got around without glasses for a year. She also had severe swelling in her eye which resulted in a referral for specialty care at Harborview Medical Center under their charity care program. I have spoken with her several times since, and her attitude towards me has completely changed. She is still impossible to reach, but she thanks me whenever she sees me and points to her glasses.

Posted in AmeriCorps, community healthcorps, Healthy Vision Month, national service, Sea Mar Community Health Centers | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment