Tackling the Scary Stuff

By Alyssa Grams, Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps Alum, Alliance for Rural Community Health

As a part of their service, Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps members often provide health education and resources in support of the behavioral/mental health services offered by the Community Health Centers where they serve. In recognition of October as National Bullying Prevention Month and September as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, we are sharing a powerful story from Alyssa Grams, a 2014-2015 Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps member, about a special project she led to raise awareness about suicide and bullying for middle school students in Mendocino County, CA. After graduating from Community HealthCorps® in July, Alyssa is completing a second year of AmeriCorps service with the Pacific County Resiliency Corps. She is continuing her passion for youth health education, by serving as a teen health liaison for three school districts in partnership with the Teen Advocacy Coalition.


Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps Alum, Alyssa Grams, in action during her service year, providing health education to local youth in Mendocino County.

As a Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps member serving at Laytonville Healthy Start, I work mainly with the youth in my community, teaching nutrition and cooking lessons at the local middle and high schools, helping with after-school programs, facilitating a peer mentorship program, and various other projects. One of my favorite service activities is teaching 50-minute health lessons at Laytonville Middle School. These lessons usually center on fun and innocuous topics like nutrition, healthy relationships, sports nutrition, hygiene, etc. But in January, I took on a more precarious topic with my students: suicide prevention.

It’s hard to imagine there could be suicidal ideation behind the familiar faces in the classrooms at Laytonville Middle School. Sadly, data from the California Healthy Kids Survey suggests that 17% (almost 1 in 5) of Mendocino County seventh graders have seriously considered suicide and, by ninth grade, 8% have actually attempted. There is a lot of fear, misinformation, and stigma around the topic of suicide, but it’s something we clearly need to be talking about, especially with school-aged children.

For my lessons, I recruited the help of the Peer Counselors from Laytonville High School, who are great with facilitating small group discussions in the middle school classrooms. I presented the statistics about rates of teen suicide, how bullying and interpersonal conflict can increase suicide ideation, and common myths about suicide. We then introduced a set of real life scenarios to the students, asking them to identify warning signs of suicide and create a plan of action for each. At first, I was really nervous to talk about such a charged subject, but the students floored me with their maturity and ability to engage with the topic in a meaningful way.

The most intimidating and personal part of the presentation for me also ended up being the best and most meaningful. I posted a photo of myself at age twelve on the board and shared the story of my suicide attempt at that age. I talked about the type of teen I was and what it felt like to be suicidal, and then I allowed the students to ask me questions. It was very difficult to talk about, but the perspective I was able to share was very engaging and evocative for the students. I got more than a couple hugs that day, and I noticed students proudly wearing their suicide prevention wristbands around school weeks later.


Alyssa Grams with her fellow Community HealthCorps teammates putting together care packages with positive notes of encouragement for local community members as a part of a service project.

No one talked about suicide at my school. When I was in crisis, I felt alone and confused; I didn’t know how to talk about what was going on with me, and I didn’t know how to seek help. At the conclusion of my lessons at Laytonville, the students had a better idea of how to talk about suicide; they were able to identify where to get help and what the appropriate response would be in crisis situations. I am so grateful for the opportunity to take something that was so very painful for me and use it to empower my students. Knowing that my presentations potentially helped even just one student feel less alone and know where to get help for themselves or a friend made this project one of the most meaningful moments in my service year!

Posted in Alliance for Rural Community Health, AmeriCorps, community healthcorps, National Bullying Prevention Month, national service, National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Youth Health Education | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chelsea’s Story: Coming full Circle with Community HealthCorps

By Anastasia Sonneman, Program Specialist, NACHC-Community HealthCorps®

The vision of Community HealthCorps® is to become a national service pipeline for careers in community health centers that is improving access to primary and preventive care services for the medically underserved. Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps alumni like Chelsea McCarron bring this vision to life. After serving with East Boston Neighborhood Health’s Let’s Get Movin’ childhood obesity prevention program, Chelsea came full circle by becoming a staff member with the same program. In honor of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, we asked Chelsea to highlight the incredible work done by Let’s Get Movin’ and the role it played in her personal service journey.

When and where did you do your AmeriCorps term with Community HealthCorps®?
I served with Community HealthCorps® from 2008-2009 at East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) with the Let’s Get Movin’ program.

Why did you decide to join Community HealthCorps®?
During my senior year in college, I went to Brazil to participate in a public health initiative with my university. That was my first experience of really working on the front lines in the field of community health, and I found myself wanting more. At the time, I was also considering applying to the Peace Corps or pursuing a Master’s degree in international development, but after my first interview with the Community HealthCorps® program at EBNHC, I was sold. Originally growing up a half an hour outside of East Boston, I was immediately struck by the dramatic difference between my hometown and the community served by this health center. I knew I wanted to get involved.

LGM.May 915

Chelsea with a Let’s Get Movin’ youth participant.

What did you do in your service as a Community HealthCorps® Member?
I served with Let’s Get Movin’, EBNHC’s after school and summer program engaging local youth in activities focused on healthy eating and being active. A fairly new program at that time, it was started three years earlier by the 2005-2006 EBNHC Community HealthCorps® team to address the community’s high instances of childhood and adult obesity. Together with three of my fellow Members and two EBHNC staff members, we developed and facilitated a 10-lesson curriculum on nutrition and physical fitness serving about 100 families throughout the year. We focused on creating lessons that were applicable, understandable, and realistic for families living in a food desert. The goal was to build confidence and excitement in the youth participants and their parents, teaching them athletic skills and eating habits they could easily replicate.

What do you feel is the biggest impact you made during your service?
My teammates and I tried very hard to make the Let’s Get Movin’ program sustainable, beyond our service term. We put a great deal of effort in creating curriculum that could be built upon but used as a foundation by future teams, which I am proud to say is still in use eight years later.

What do you recall as the biggest challenge you had to overcome during your service?
It was difficult trying to build something that you know a community desperately needs, and you think and hope is working, but you can’t know for sure. That’s why we focused on incorporating revision and evaluation pieces into the program, to prove that it was in fact both needed and effective. We wanted to make sure Let’s Get Movin’ stayed strong and benefitted local families long after our service term ended.

What do you feel is your biggest take away from your service experience?
My service experience emphasized the importance of finding out what a community needs by asking the members of that community. I think it’s very easy, especially in public health, to let your passion for the mission and personal perspective make assumptions about need. What Community HealthCorps® taught me is that telling is not the same as asking.


Chelsea spoke on the value of AmeriCorps, specifically her personal experience with Community HealthCorps at last year’s 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps celebration in Boston.

How did your service affect the choices you made regarding your professional goals?
Community HealthCorps® helped me define a passion for public health, specifically childhood obesity prevention. It gave me the bravery to move across the country to California and broaden my experience on addressing homelessness, obesity, and poverty. It also inspired me to work at the Family Health Center of San Diego and step outside my comfort zone to work in a completely different field of health outreach. When I returned to Boston to pursue my Masters in Health Policy and Management at Boston University, it was no surprise that I jumped at the opportunity to work part-time with the Let’s Get Movin’ Program. It felt like coming home. After about three months, I joined as a full-time staff member directly supporting the Community HealthCorps® Members serving with the program. I am so proud and consider myself lucky to have the opportunity of empowering Community HealthCorps® Members to keep making this program stronger.

Posted in AmeriCorps Alums, community healthcorps, East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, Let's Get Movin', National Childhood Obesity Prevention Month, national service | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Starting Fresh

By Dustin Bainto, Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps Alum, LifeLong Medical Care

In celebration of September’s National Fruits and Veggies—More Matters Month, we’re sharing Dustin’s story, demonstrating one of the many ways our AmeriCorps members encourage the communities they serve to eat fresh!  Dustin served as a Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps member with our 2014-2105 LifeLong Medical Care team. Today, Dustin works as a Clinical Care Assistant at the LifeLong Downtown Oakland health center and Supportive Housing Program at LifeLong Medical Care. Dustin is currently applying to medical school and aspires to be a primary care physician for medically underserved communities.

Dustin Bainto - what community healthcorps means to youAs a Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps member with LifeLong Medical Care, I led wellness groups and programs that help improve the health and well-being of the communities we serve. In college, I became more aware of how my health was inextricably linked to my dietary habits and learned, from a public health perspective, about how nutrition can prevent and combat many illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension. I also learned that underserved and marginalized communities, like the ones I served in downtown Oakland, are often at risk to adverse health outcomes due to poor dietary habits, a consequence of the food deserts that they inhabit. These things inspired me to bring fresh produce to the population my community health center serves.

I found out about the Veggie Giveaway program when I shadowed my fellow Community HealthCorps® teammates serving at a different LifeLong health center site. This program was first started and brought to LifeLong patients in 2010 by Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps member, Thomas Gildea. The Veggie Giveaway program has expanded and now operates at six health centers in the cities of Oakland, Berkeley, and San Pablo. The program provides fresh fruits and vegetables to over 250 patients on a weekly basis year round.

Veggie Giveaway takes thousands of pounds of donated produce from local farmers and
businesses that would otherwise be thrown away and gives it to communities in need. After taking part in several giveaways with my teammates at their sites, I immediately began doing research for local organizations that would be willing to donate their unwanted produce to benefit the patients veggie giveaway tableserved at my health center. This led me and my teammate to a local business owner who agreed to show us the ropes at his Farmer’s Market. After explaining the mission of LifeLong Medical Care and how we wanted to serve the health center’s patients through the Veggie Giveaway program, he agreed to provide us with leftover produce donated by the market’s vendors.

Bringing fresh produce to our patients was an incredibly rewarding part of my service experience. Oftentimes we had genuine conversations with patients at Veggie Giveaways and learned about their lives and the barriers they face to maintaining healthy futures. Through those conversations, we helped them find the resources they needed, whether it’s at LifeLong or through another community organization. We met individuals who shy away from healthy cooking because they lack access to stoves or microwaves and others who cannot eat raw vegetables or fruits because they are in desperate need of dental care. These interactions are an opportunity to educate patients through literature and community asset mapping. One of our favorite things to do was including recipes as a part of the giveaways–especially with fresh ingredients unfamiliar to our patients (fennel anyone?) and foods helpful for those with diabetes and hypertension, common illnesses among LifeLong’s patients.

dustin bainto and dana lazaro, veggie giveaway at DOCStarting the Fruit and Veggie Giveaway program at my service site allowed me to see that, through collaboration and initiative, Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps members like me and my teammates can truly make a difference. Throughout my service year, we served at least 15 patients every giveaway at my health center in downtown Oakland, several of whom were recurrent. I am proud to be a part of a legacy created by Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps Members and hope that the program continues to grow to serve even more communities in need through the efforts of future Community HealthCorps® teams.

Posted in Community Health Centers, Federally Qualified Health Center, Healthy Futures, National Association of Community Health Centers, national service, nutrition, Social Determinants of Health | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment