Staffing the Safety Net: An Alum Spotlight for Nurses Week

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.

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BJ with a couple of staff from her nursing team at HOTCHC.

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.

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BJ with a member of the clinical team at HOTCHC.

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.

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BJ with another nurse at HOTCHC.

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?
BJ: Rewarding

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Intergenerational Program Brings Youth and Older Adults Together for Better Health

This post was originally published on the Our Stories Blog of the National Association of Community Health Centers, the parent organization for Community HealthCorps®, on Tuesday, May 10, 2016. 

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Zufall-ZIP-Program-Diana-Kim11-300x270Zufall Health in suburban New Jersey is a prime example of how health centers can serve as an engine for innovation, particularly in the area of community health. A case in point is the Zufall Intergenerational Program (ZIP), launched and operated solely by Zufall’s Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps members.

Intergenerational programs bring together youth and older adults in service learning settings. Programs such as these have been growing in popularity, especially as mounting research shows positive health and social outcomes for the seniors and children who participate.

Zufall Health launched its own program in partnership with the local head start program, the senior public housing facility and two assisted living centers. A local Whole Foods store also provides all ZIP participants with free healthy snacks at each session.

Zufall-ZIP-Program-Kim-Robin1-300x225“I feel younger by being around the children! It motivates me to get up and go,” said program participant and Grandfriend Willa Hayes. “We [seniors] need activities that keep us alive. If you are not moving then you are not engaged in life!”

“ZIP provides a tremendous benefit to the communities we serve and would not be possible without our Community HealthCorps team. That’s just a fact,” explains Zufall Health CEO, Eva Turbiner. “It’s also one of the many reasons we place such a high value on both the potential and the results our Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps members are able to create through their service.”

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Serving to Improve Air Quality in the Central Valley

By Holly Beitch, 2015-2016 Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps Member, Central Valley Health Network

Today marks the culmination of the tenth annual Air Quality Awareness Week, an EPA initiative that promotes the benefits of reducing air pollution. As a Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps member, I lead the Air Quality Flag Program to raise awareness about the impact of air quality on health issues, such as lung and cardiovascular diseases. Each day of my service at Golden Valley Health Centers (GVHC) begins with checking the air quality of Merced County and alerting the community to its cleanliness by raising a corresponding colored flag. This responsibility is a daily reminder of how quickly our air can change from healthy to unhealthy (or vice-versa) and how some people’s daily activities are shaped by their ability to be outside.

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Holly with some of her Community HealthCorps teammates at Golden Valley Health Centers

It is no secret that the Central Valley has less than ideal air quality, and although it is improving, I am learning more and more that this is a problem that is not going to be fixed easily. Many factors go into improving the air: shifting the culture of Central Valley residents and businesses, changing the type of energy factories use, and involving politicians in education about better air quality, just to name a few. As a Community HealthCorps AmeriCorps member, I was provided the opportunity to make a positive change for Central Valley residents. So I decided that, of the aforementioned factors, I would aim to influence a small culture shift in the community’s understanding of air quality.

I started by focusing on the health center’s employees. I thought that if I could encourage the employees to make changes in their lives and see the benefits of those changes for our patients, then maybe they would become supporters of better air as well. Last September, I began giving a presentation every month to new employees about the incentives GVHC offers if they rideshare by carpooling, riding their bike, or taking public transportation. During the presentation, I show a (very depressing) picture of Merced County’s ranking in air quality compared to the rest of the United States in an effort to sway people to put extra effort into reducing their vehicle emissions and traffic. I also share the positive experiences I have had with carpooling and public transportation. I reason with them that, although these methods aren’t the most convenient for getting to and from work, the good that comes from them is invaluable.

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Local elementary school children participating in a Recycle Relay during the GVHC Earth Day event

To inspire the larger community to make positive changes, I organized an Earth Day event. Each year, GVHC hosts a celebration to engage more than 500 elementary school students and members of the community in education about environmentally friendly living. This year, I developed partnerships with other community-based organizations that promote awareness of conservation practices in improving health outcomes. For example, the local Asthma Coalition spoke to children about the Air Quality Flag Program, and the Tobacco Control Coalition taught kids about the dirty chemicals in cigarette smoke that can trigger asthma symptoms. The Earth Day event made me feel optimistic about the future of our air quality and proud that my service was dedicated to encouraging thoughtfulness about the impacts we all have on the Earth.

When I am feeling weary about going out to raise the air quality flags every morning and taking them down every evening, I reflect on the past seven months. I’m reminded of the people who rely on the flags to lead healthy futures and plan their days a little differently based on the air quality.

“My service is one step towards improving the quality of life for the Central Valley community.” -Holly

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