We’re celebrating National Nurses Week with a spotlight on Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps alum, Billie Jo (BJ) Kucera. Community HealthCorps Program Specialist Kellie Hall interviews BJ, whose service in the program inspired her to eventually become an Associate Director of Nursing and Quality Improvement Coordinator at the health center where she served.
KH: When and where did you complete your AmeriCorps term with Community HealthCorps?
BJ: I served with Community HealthCorps from 2007-2008 at Heart of Texas Community Health Centers (HOTCHC) in Waco, TX. At this time, I was a Certified Nurses Aid in the process of completing my Licensed Vocational Nursing.
KH: Why did you decide to become an AmeriCorps member with Community HealthCorps?
BJ: I have always enjoyed working with the public. After being referred to join by an employee of the health center, I knew that serving a year is exactly what I wanted to do – being able to make an impact on the community and knowing that they appreciated my efforts is a priceless opportunity. The exciting part was that I was serving with the very first Community HealthCorps team in the area! It was a privilege to help lay the national service foundation for this organization.
KH: What types of populations did you serve as a Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps member?
BJ: The beauty of serving at HOTCHC is that they have multiple locations throughout Central TX, so I was able to meet patients from all different cultures and backgrounds.
KH: What were the main service activities you did in your day-to-day service?
BJ: I served primarily with the Chronic Disease Management team, meeting with patients living with diabetes and teaching them about the disease process. The part of my service that I enjoyed most was helping patients set goals to stay healthy! It was very rewarding to interact with patients, engage them in their own health care, and really see them grow as individuals and in their health status.
KH: What do you feel is the biggest benefit of having a Community HealthCorps Program Site in your community?
BJ: Because there are so many parts of this community that are underserved, it can be difficult for the organizations here to reach all those in need. But the Community HealthCorps program has allowed HOTCHC to reach out to the public and get everyone involved. My AmeriCorps team did not just serve the health center’s patients – we also visited daycares, schools, and participated in larger community events. It was about getting the community to become one.
KH: How did your service with Community HealthCorps impact the path you took regarding your professional goals?
BJ: After completing my year of service, I knew that Nursing was the place for me because I truly enjoyed working with patients and helping them understand their health. So, I returned to school to pursue my Associate’s Degree in Nursing. I graduated from McLennan Community College and decided that I just could not leave behind the patients I had become friends with as a Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps member. So, I accepted a nursing position at HOTCHC. The leadership skills I gained in service provided me the opportunity to become an Associate Director of Nursing in 2012, training and managing about 100 nurses at the health center. Then in October 2015, I accepted a Quality Improvement Coordinator position to help HOTCHC better serve the community by reviewing provider charts and developing performance improvement measures. I have worked my way up from a volunteer in the community to a health care leader thanks to the Community HealthCorps program.
KH: What is the one word you would use to describe your Community HealthCorps service experience?