We asked the 12 members of the 2018-2019 Health Corps team to speak a bit about their experiences. Here is what they had to say:
The mission of Food & Friends is to foster a community of caring for men, women, and children living with HIV, cancer, and other life-challenging illnesses by preparing and delivering specialized meals and groceries in conjunction with nutrition counseling. Team member Michael Eseigbe serves as the client enrichment coordinator, conducting home visits to provide food deliveries and assess client needs.
“My service year at Food & Friends has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. At Food & Friends, I have the privilege of delivering cooked meals and groceries to those living with serious health conditions in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. While navigating D.C. traffic hasn’t been the easiest time, meeting clients in their homes has been an incredible opportunity. Being invited to their homes and getting to sit down with them around food (which I love so much!) has been so cool. You get to learn so much about their lives and their stories. As a member of the client services team, you are surrounded by diligent and empathetic people who work very hard to make Food & Friends run as efficiently as possible. It’s a huge undertaking to deliver meals to over 1,500 clients, but Food & Friends meets that challenge every week. What blew me away when I first started here was that Food & Friends caters to 11 different diet plans for people with particular dietary restrictions. The attention to detail and effort to help our clients is a huge inspiration for me as I come into work each day. As someone who wants to become a physician, this placement has broadened my perspective on interacting with patients. Seeing the issues and struggles that lie outside of a medical condition provides a great perspective that every physician should have in my opinion. Food & Friends stays true to its name; it provides great tasting food with a compassionate friend to listen and help out!”
HIPS is a community-based nonprofit organization serving the most vulnerable populations in the District of Columbia. Through its harm reduction model, HIPS works to improve the health and well-being of people engaged in street economies such as sex work, people who use drugs, people who identify as LGBTQ, and people who live in the organization’s H Street NE community. This includes HIPS’s wellness center that provides showers, laundry, food, support groups, case management services, insurance navigation, housing access services, medical care for HIPS’ HIV-positive and Hepatitis C-positive clients, and in-house and mobile HIV and Hepatitis C prevention services. As a MAT community health worker, Jack Buyske helps coordinate the HIPS Suboxone clinic, a clinic that provides medication and addiction care for over 80 clients. He also manages HIPS’ naloxone distribution efforts.
“I’ll start with this: HIPS is an incredibly important organization and does work that very few others in D.C., or the nation, are willing to do. Inside the walls of HIPS, highly-stigmatized communities such as sex workers, drug users, queer and trans folks, and homeless folks can find a space where they can get love and compassion, not to mention hot food, housing assistance, and medical care.
At HIPS, I work primarily in the Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) clinic, which serves those looking to stop using opioids, and primarily prescribes Suboxone. Given our nation’s opioid crisis and Washington, D.C.’s long-standing struggle with heroin, I strongly believe that this placement is essential work, a chance to be on the front lines of the fight to turn back the tide against overdose deaths. It has been inspiring to learn from my coworkers in the clinic and to assist with the recovery process of so many of our clients–enough that I look forward to our clinic days even though it means being at work by 7 a.m. Furthermore, because the job is so clinically oriented, I strongly believe that this work will give me the tools to be a better health care professional in the future.
If the philosophy of harm reduction and working with drug users and sex workers aren’t your cup of tea, then maybe this placement isn’t for you, and that’s okay! But, for the right person, I believe that this is the best out-of-college job that you could possibly ask for. I’m incredibly thankful to be here.”
Joseph’s House provides healing care to homeless individuals with late-stage and end-stage AIDS and terminal cancer in Washington, D.C. The residents receive 24-hour nursing services, case management, addiction counseling, end-of-life care, and emotional and spiritual support. Team members Akanksha Nalatwad and Jake Woodward serve as resident care aides, providing social support and advocacy, assisting residents with daily living activities and personal care needs, and providing companionship to the residents.
“The beauty of being at Joseph’s House is that nothing about it is ever predictable. My day can range from cooking a breakfast for twenty people to sitting bedside with a dying resident. On paper, it is a place that helps residents either die nobly or helps residents heal medically by feeding them well, assisting with their medications, and accompanying residents to their appointments. But in true spirit, Joseph’s House allows for emotional healing and growth both for the residents and the caretakers themselves. Learning the stories and experiences of the residents has really allowed me to understand that medicine is not just getting someone to the hospital, but also taking into account all of the other factors in their lives that prevent them from living healthily. Joseph’s House has allowed me to be vulnerable and break down all sorts of biases and prejudices I had coming in. But most importantly, Joseph’s House has taught me how to treat anyone and any situation with love and mindfulness. And for that, I’m changed for the better and forever thankful.”
“Each week at our staff meeting at Joseph’s House, we are called to reflect on what challenged us, what inspired us, and what we learned about love. In a few short months, I’ve learned lifetimes from people who opened their hearts to me, and have seen my own capacity for loving grow and change. Days at the house vary a lot: I’ve cleaned up a flooded basement, given bed baths, thrown a birthday party, taken residents to appointments, stood in line at the social security office, danced and laughed until I cried, and sat with a friend as he took his last breaths. We act as nurse’s aides and case managers, and see how the lines between these can get blurred, and how to do both with a kind of urgent, slow tenderness. I came into this program not knowing much about HIV, public health, or caregiving, but caring deeply about people and social justice. The community at Joseph’s House–residents, staff, volunteers, former residents, and friends–offer support with open arms as I work to support them, too. I’ve learned about HIV and AIDS, homelessness, drug use, illness, and people’s complicated relationships with all of these things and more. The people living here are folks who I would likely never have crossed paths with, but here we have a chance to form meaningful relationships: I have a job here, but I’ve also gained a family. When I tell people I work at a hospice, they usually comment that it must be so sad to work with people who are dying. This work can be so challenging, but I feel lucky to accompany some truly special people as they live, and sometimes as they die. The house also isn’t what you might imagine a hospice or transition home to be like — it’s full of laughter, energy, music, and joy alongside reflective quiet and stillness, and I know to expect the unexpected. Working here, I am reminded to lead with my heart, and that the only failure is not to engage wholly. I’m blessed to be part of this community that reshapes how the world can look, and I know I will carry it and so many people with me in the future as I work for justice outside of these walls.”
La Clínica del Pueblo (LCDP) is a community health center serving Latinx and immigrant populations in the metropolitan region. LCDP provides a wide range of health services for their clients, including mental health, social services, and comprehensive HIV prevention. Team members Kevin Hernandez and Rebecca Arteaga serve as health educators, providing bilingual HIV and STI testing, health education, outreach, and supporting linkage to care.
“As an LGBTQ program health educator and navigator at LCDP’s ¡Empoderate! Youth Center, I have had the privilege to work with vibrant and resilient community members who, as Latino LGBTQ recent immigrants in the D.C. area, live at the intersections of multiple marginalities. Some of my primary responsibilities include: outreach events promoting LCDP’s mission to build a healthy Latino community; conducting HIV and other STI testing; and assisting clients one-on-one to a wide range of services, including STI treatment, connection to PrEP or really anything else our clients need. Through working directly with clients, LCDP’s model of navigating clients to services has really assisted me in understanding holistic health promotion that can better address the needs of members of the community. Being present as an additional advocate has heightened my own awareness of the different barriers that continue to exist in accessing quality and culturally competent care. The love and compassion at an organizational level trickles down to every interaction I have had with fellow staff, clients, and community members more broadly. As I continue to go forward into a career in public health, my experiences at LCDP will always challenge me to think of health disparities intersectionally and remember to highlight community resiliency.”
“It has been a complete privilege to work at LCDP. As a health educator, I look forward to HIV counseling and testing, conducting health counseling, and integrating domestic violence screenings. My favorite part by far is the Alcance Comunitario (community outreach) that we get up to, as I love interacting with others out in the Greater Washington region. As a Latina, I have never worked at a place where I have felt completely at home. I spend the vast majority of my days speaking only Spanish, listening to the resilience of clients and coworkers alike. Even through such trying times, the beauty of my Latinx community never ceases to amaze me. At the end of each day, my mind always buzzes with insights that I have learned or stories that have been shared. Everyone at LCDP has such passion for service and community, which permeates through every interaction I’ve seen. There is no doubt the LCDP is the most mission-driven organization that I have ever seen, and I feel incredibly honored to be part of this familia.”
Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) is a community-based, multi-cultural youth and family development organization that provides services to over 4,000 low-income immigrant and minority youth and their families in D.C. and Maryland. Team members Krystin Chiellini and Mary Marchese and serve as youth developers, delivering HIV and STI counseling and testing and health education as part of the community wellness health promotion team.
“Having the opportunity to spend my year of service at LAYC has been a very fulfilling and transformative post-graduation experience. As the only Health Corps member this year who didn’t begin this role directly from college, I had a gap year full of experiences in different internships before beginning this service year. While I cherish those opportunities and what I learned from them, I can definitely say that this is the best work environment I have ever been in. From day one, I felt immediately welcomed and right at home – even the building itself with its bright colors and fun murals has an atmosphere that radiates warmth and creates a space for both staff and youth alike to feel comfortable to express themselves for who they truly are. I also appreciate the emphasis LAYC puts on the professional and personal development of staff and fellows, such as skills-building workshops, team-bonding activities, and trainings on positive youth development, race, immigration, and LGBTQ equality, which are all regularly built into staff schedules. As a member of the Health Promotions team, I work as a youth developer for the Young Parents Program. Focusing specifically on outreach and engagement, I get the chance to get out of the office and really get to know the community around me, be it youth, or other service providers or health centers. I’m constantly working to build relationships and lasting connections with those in the community. In addition, I help facilitate our parenting and prenatal classes, which gives me another unique perspective as I learn so much from our participants and their lived experiences. Unfortunately, the United States has some of the worst maternal and infant mortality rates in the developed world. I have seen how this disproportionately affects women of color and low-income women, especially with the young parents we serve on a regular basis. An example of this is the “maternity care desert” that currently exists in Southeast Washington, D.C., because no labor and delivery services are in that area. Gaining this hands-on experience has further motivated me to continue to fight for health as a human right and to pursue a career in community health nursing. Through this, I hope to ensure that one day all women, children, and youth will have the access they deserve to affordable and culturally competent care, regardless of race, age or socioeconomic status.”
“As a youth developer at LAYC, I have the incredible privilege of serving the organization’s mission of advancing multicultural education and youth empowerment. The spirit of LAYC is colorful, collaborative, and above all, fiercely compassionate. It is a place where youth with diverse life experiences can find mentors, seek out new opportunities, and learn to be advocates for themselves and their communities. LAYC values productive dialogue on topics including racial equality, gender inclusivity, and immigration, and it has been such a refreshing space for me to reflect on my own life and privilege and learn from the perspectives of others. The Health Promotions team that I work with is truly a family, and each one of us is invested in the success and well-being of each other. Specifically, I am the youth developer and lead tester for our counseling, testing, referrals, and linkages (CTRL) program, where we offer free and confidential HIV, STI, and pregnancy testing, birth control prescriptions, and STI treatment. My role provides the perfect balance of individualized counseling with group workshop facilitation experience, as I am also a facilitator for our school-based Sexual Wellness Advocacy by Teens (SWAT) program, where we give youth the information and resources to educate their peers on sexual wellness topics such as consent, HIV and STI prevention, and defining healthy relationships. I find my job to be rewarding every single day, whether it’s laughing along with a client, blasting music with coworkers in the testing room, or making an important referral. I am constantly challenged to think more critically about LAYC’s outreach efforts and how to continue making our services accessible to youth regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, documentation status, or language they speak. My experience at LAYC has provided me with a clearer picture of what I perceive my role in community health to be as I move forward with my career. I truly feel that the work that I am doing alongside an incredibly caring LAYC staff makes tangible impacts on youth in the Columbia Heights neighborhood and beyond, and I am excited to see how I can continue to grow both personally and professionally with LAYC as my service year progresses.”
N Street Village is a community of empowerment and recovery for homeless and low-income women. With comprehensive services addressing both emergency and long-term needs, N Street helps women achieve stability in their housing, income, employment, and health. Team member Rebkah Tesfamariam serves as the HIV program specialist, supporting HIV-positive clients and residents, and serving as an educational resource for the women N Street Village serves each year through its drop-in day programs and residential programs.
“N Street Village feels like home for me. The Village truly embodies the model of treating every person with dignity and respect, right down to the daily greetings and inside jokes. I appreciate every opportunity to get to know and learn from all the clients and staff members, as they are what makes this job worthwhile. I feel very lucky to have been welcomed into a community that helps me grow in my understanding of structural inequalities within our country’s economic and sociopolitical systems. Through trainings about trauma-informed care and crisis response, N Street Village is also helping me acquire valuable skills to advocate and support our clients. Some of my daily tasks in the Wellness Center include acting as a liaison for health care professionals, distributing over-the-counter medicine, and leading a group about women’s empowerment. I also assist the Day Center with serving meals, distributing toiletry items, and forming closer relationships with clients. While I am still working on starting the HIV testing initiatives, I have been working with groups of clients and staff to promote education and information about the epidemic. All of these experiences combine into an enjoyable, exciting, and full experience at N Street Village.”
Whitman-Walker Health (WWH) is a nonprofit health organization that provides comprehensive, accessible health care and community services in the Greater Washington region. This year, WWH hosted three members. Ezie Nguyen serves as the volunteer coordinator and HIV tester and risk reduction counselor with the +1 Peer Mentor Program, Sam Singal serves as an HIV tester and REALTalk workshop facilitator, and Tim Utz serves as a health educator and PrEP coordinator.
“My time at WWH has illuminated the intricacies of health and humanity. By offering a breadth of services from medical care and behavioral health to legal services and research, WWH thoroughly grasps the concept of holistic care offered in a culturally competent manner. I have the privilege of contributing to WWH’s narrative in a variety of ways. My main roles involve being a health educator and volunteer coordinator in the community health department, but I am also the coordinator of the +1 Peer Mentor Program and lead the bathhouse initiative. As a health educator, I provide HIV testing and counseling, link patients to care, and engage in community work that promotes sexual health. Serving as the volunteer coordinator, I have the opportunity to engage others in addressing D.C.’s HIV epidemic through training and education. With the +1 Peer Mentor Program, I help connect mentees newly diagnosed with HIV to experienced HIV+ mentors. This mentorship program offers the mentee an opportunity to discuss any issues they may face, from medication fatigue to talking about their status with loved ones. In addition to these positions, I also oversee the Bathhouse Initiative– a robust strategy to provide care to a key portion of D.C.’s LGBTQ+ population. This unique project allows me to work with local bathhouses to conduct outreach services for priority populations. My experience thus far at WWH has been transformative. Every day, I am greeted with new opportunities and challenges that push me to become a better health advocate, care provider, and member of the community. I am grateful for the chance to engage in this meaningful work and know that I will carry its lessons with me forever.”
“Down the street from the Eastern Market metro station, a colorful door advertises free HIV and STI testing. Ringing the doorbell and hearing the familiar “You can pull on the door” welcomes one down the stairs into the Peer Education Center, more commonly known as the PEC. Here, I serve as an HIV and STI tester and counselor for clients who drop in to check their status. I’ve come to really enjoy the one-on-one interactions in the testing room, because despite an established set of steps that must be completed, each counseling session is unique. From joking around with clients to being a calm presence in the midst of a client’s anxiety, my time in the testing room has provided me with so many opportunities to connect with individuals and make an otherwise potentially uncomfortable or stressful experience more manageable. In my other role as a workshop facilitator, I assist with the ten-week health education and workforce preparedness program that equips youth to eventually serve as Peer Representatives leading outreach events in the community. Aside from the clients and youth who frequent the space, the individuals staffing the PEC are the reason I look forward to coming to work. We have our quiet days, but oftentimes you can find us roaring with laughter as someone relates an absurd story from their morning, tuning into a nature documentary or Jeopardy on the TV, or playing Just Dance on a staff member’s Nintendo Switch. The staff here really are a family, and I’m thankful to have witnessed that dynamic as we’ve both celebrated another’s success and pulled together in the face of another’s tragedy. Their commitment to each other and the youth who’ve grown up in this space is unparalleled in a professional setting, and I count myself lucky to be able to share in that energy on a daily basis.”
“I have the incredible pleasure of working at WWH, a large nonprofit health clinic and a leader in the advancement of LGBTQ+ health care. My job is really unparalleled for a new college graduate. I spend 50% of my time in WWH’s Community Health department, and 50% of the time I help manage the evening Sexual Health Clinic (formerly called the Gay Men’s Health and Wellness Clinic).
As a community health educator, I am scheduled for weekly HIV testing and counseling shifts. During this time, anyone from the public can come in to get a free rapid HIV test and even get a full STI panel to screen for the most popular STIs. I really love the counseling aspect of my job, because I have the opportunity to really make someone’s day, educate them, and calm their anxieties about everything pertaining to sexual health. I also do a lot of community outreach events, sometimes using our mobile testing van, which is great because I get to get out in the community and help educate and test people.
During my time at the Tuesday and Thursday evening Sexual Health Clinic, I serve as the PrEP navigator and I assist with STI screening, HIV testing, and registration so that the clinic runs smoothly. This is a fast-paced environment with a lot of moving parts, but it enables us to see, test, and treat many patients in a short period of time. It is so amazing that WWH has the resources to offer these testing and treatment services for free and I have learned to really understand the important impact this has from a public health standpoint.
I can’t imagine what kind of future medical provider I would be had I not taken a risk and embarked on such a life changing journey with the Washington AIDS Partnership. I have had the chance to interact with so many diverse groups of people, and I love it. From the nuances of medicine to the dynamic world of health insurance, every day I learn so much. I am more confident in my ability to interact in a clinical setting with patients and I plan to use my experiences in public health to better care for the community as a medical provider.”