The recruitment process for the 2018-2019 Health Corps team has closed. Recruitment for the 2019-2020 team will begin in December 2018.
We asked the 12 members of the 2017-2018 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 Arjun Byju serves as the client enrichment coordinator, conducting home visits to provide food deliveries and assess client needs.
“At Food & Friends, both components of the organization’s title are provided and affirmed each and every day. Food & Friends delivers nutritious and delicious meals to thousands of clients in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. At first, I wondered how it would be possible to make so much food, and make it taste good too! Our amazing kitchen staff and innumerable volunteers make this happen day in and day out. The food tastes amazing (I know because I sample it all the time) and is thoughtfully tailored to a range of different diets. Food & Friends provides more than just food—it also offers compassion and friendship to residents of the Greater Washington region. This is accomplished by the tireless efforts of Food & Friends’ generous, devoted, and caring staff. From the first moment of my first day, I felt at home at Food & Friends. I was encouraged by the knowledge that I was part of an important mission. In my first week, I met the CEO, Craig, and he bought me a book to read based on my interest in medicine. Members of my client services team frequently bring in snacks and baked goods, and they always remember that I am vegan. Food & Friends staff bring a loving attitude to all of their interactions with clients, offering free healthy cooking classes, giving away toys to children in the community for the holidays, and just in general, always going out of their way to deliver important services to clients. In my role as client enrichment coordinator, I have grown from the opportunity to conduct first day deliveries. I believe this experience will be invaluable as a physician one day. Seeing patients in an office or clinic is seeing only a tiny sliver of their existence, and is dictated by the doctor’s terms. At my client’s homes, I am the guest, and I find that I am able to learn much more about the challenges faced by those who live with serious health conditions.”
The D.C. Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, and TB Administration (HAHSTA) is the core District government agency to prevent and reduce transmission and provide care and treatment to persons living with these diseases. HAHSTA partners with health and community-based organizations to offer testing and counseling, prevention education and intervention, free condoms, medical support, free medication and insurance, housing, nutrition, and many other services for residents of D.C. As a youth developer, team member Esosa Ohonba is part of an education and outreach team that collaborates across departments to ensure that culturally competent services are provided to the programs’ youth.
“Through my service year at HAHSTA, I have had the opportunity to work at the heart of D.C.’s efforts to combat the epidemics of HIV, gonorrhea, and chlamydia in the general population, specifically youth. I see firsthand how this incredible machine works to oversee the health care system of the region. My department, a team of HAHSTA’s strongest analysts and program officers, focuses specifically on the sexual health of D.C. residents ages 14 – 24. We accomplish our vision of a healthy young adult population through our school-based screening program, our condom distribution program, our community based outreach program, and our many targeted health campaigns. My role involves participating in all of these branches, assisting in oversight, data management, and community engagement. Even more so, my position involves innovation, as HAHSTA is one of few state health departments that prioritizes constant growth and reinvention. HAHSTA is one of the few places daring enough to try out new frameworks of care, implement new models of public health surveillance, and substantiate ideas at the very forefront of best-practice research. I am excited to further sharpen professional teeth in this dynamic workspace, and unpack what it means to be a public health professional under the official aegis of the local government – what it means to both heal and represent the public.”
HIPS promotes the health, rights, and dignity of communities impacted by sexual exchange and/or drug use due to choice coercion or circumstance. HIPS provides compassionate harm reduction services, advocacy, and community engagement that is respectful, non-judgmental, and affirms and honors individual power and agency. As the volunteer and overnight outreach coordinator, Mari Longmire conducts and supervises outreach in the van, and provides HIV and HCV education and testing, clinical navigation, mini-case management, and linkage and referrals for clients.
“I struggle to find adequate words to describe the impact that HIPS has had on my life. As an organization committed to serving and supporting queer communities, trans communities, communities of color, folks experiencing homelessness or housing instability, and communities involved in and impacted by drug use and sexual exchange, HIPS is truly doing radical and essential work in D.C. Hidden to some and visible to others, this gem of an organization has taught me just how much survival is essential to community. HIPS also demonstrates the transformative love and support that is created because of community. Working as the volunteer and overnight outreach coordinator, I engage in a mix of direct service, client advocacy, and education roles. I manage our 24/7 crisis hotline and our overnight outreach services to sex worker communities in the District. Outreach services consist of HIV prevention tools, linkage to community resources, emotional support/micro-counseling, and linkage to crisis services. In addition to coordinating trainings, dialogues, and community building opportunities for the HIPS volunteer base, I have the pleasure of working with some of the most amazing and mission-driven people that are willing to literally put their lives on the line for our clients. As a stand-alone in the harm reduction sphere, HIPS has given me opportunities to work closely with research, advocacy, and community engagement efforts as they relate to local and national legislation, build innovative initiatives with other organizations, and oversee university ethnographic public health research.”
Joseph’s House is a residence for formerly homeless people who are terminally ill, usually with an AIDS diagnosis, 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 Ciaran Murphy and Laura Levitt 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.
“I rarely find myself looking at my watch at Joseph’s House. Most days move with a kind of flow that simply makes you stop worrying about getting out at 5:00. My experience at Joseph’s House is wildly different from anything I had been exposed to in life prior to the “Joe’s House Journey.” I have had the privilege of being a supportive presence for people at the moment of their death. I have gone from no cooking experience to being able to whip up a meal for 12 people within an hour. Additionally, as a result of accompanying residents to their doctors’ appointments, I have become familiar with how just about every hospital and clinic in the area functions. There is a certain societal understanding that a hospice house is morbid and slow. I can definitely say that for Joseph’s House, this does not apply. It has times of urgency, times of grief, times of joy, and times of hysterical laughter. You learn a lot here. The residents are some of the greatest teachers I have ever encountered. As someone who is interested in going into medicine, I was worried that being at Joseph’s House might not satisfy a little check box that medical schools and graduate schools are looking for. Only a few weeks into this journey, I realized that my worry was totally unfounded. The world of Joseph’s House has rounded out my perspective on what it means to be a professional in the health field. My time here has undoubtedly made me a better health care advocate as well as a stronger and more mindful human being.”
“Joseph’s House is, in so many ways, full to the brim. Every day, I am thrown “into the thick of it,” and I have become a stronger and more compassionate person for it. It is often the unassuming, ordinary moments of everyday life that teach me the greatest lessons here. Whether it’s offering a healing presence simply by sitting and holding hands with someone as they come to the end of their life, listening to well-won life advice as I drive a resident to a doctor’s appointment, goofing around while cooking in the kitchen, or getting a giant hug as I walk in the door in the morning, I am constantly reminded that it is the little daily interactions that build trusting and open relationships. At its core, I think this is really what Joseph’s House is all about – building relationships that break down the boundaries between the caregiver and the cared for, the healthy and the sick, the giver and the taker. It is not an easy job, because it constantly challenges me to engage openly and fully with those around me, but it is absolutely a transformational experience. By encouraging me to stay present, act authentically, and build my ability to show skillful compassion, the house and the people in it change me for the better every day. Joseph’s House has taught me how to enter experiences with an open heart, and for that, I could not be more grateful.”
La Clínica del Pueblo (LCDP) is a community health center serving Latino 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 member Jasmin Feliciano serves as a health educator, providing bilingual HIV and STI testing, health education, outreach, and supporting linkage to care.
“Through my time at LCDP’s ¡Empoderate! Youth Center, I have explored the complexities and barriers in health care as experienced by the Latino LGBTQ recent-immigrant population of Washington, D.C. Through the warm and supportive environment that is fostered by staff, health promoters, and clients, I have been able to work one-on-one with individuals to help meet their health and well-being needs in a holistic and comprehensive way. My favorite part of each day is having my morning coffee while listening to the stories of resilience that every client brings with them. Whether I am participating in community outreach events, doing HIV and STI testing, facilitating a health education session, or navigating someone to services, I have gained a broader perspective of what health advocacy truly is. LCDP prides itself on promoting and upholding the idea that health care is a human right and campaigning for the belief that no human being is illegal. I am proud to support these values and feel lucky to be a part of such a humble and honorable mission-driven organization. Every day at work, I am inspired by the bravery and unyielding determination of each client I meet and of my fellow co-workers. I am grateful for this experience, that I will undoubtedly carry with me and build upon throughout my future career in medicine, but more importantly, as I continue my overall journey through life.”
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. LAYC’s mission is to “empower a diverse population of youth to achieve a successful transition to adulthood through multi-cultural, comprehensive, and innovative programs that address youth’s social, academic, and career needs.” LAYC achieves this mission by adhering to a youth development model that offers low-income and minority youth a continuum of services, programs, and opportunities. Team member Deshae Jenkins serves as a youth developer, delivering HIV and STI counseling and testing and health education as part of the community wellness health promotion team.
“Working as the youth developer at LAYC, I have been ushered into a colorful community of caring individuals, whose lives revolve around helping and empowering vulnerable youth and their families. When I first stepped into LAYC, I immediately felt at home. I have never worked at an organization where the staff were so warm and welcoming– I truly feel like I have been adopted as a part of their family. Each staff member that I have encountered inspires me with their passion and dedication to their work. They truly embody their commitment to transforming the lives of low-income young people and their families. The staff at LAYC believe in a future where all youth pursue their dreams, reach their goals, and acquire the skills and self-confidence to live a life of purpose, connection, contribution, and joy. I have had the immense privilege of supporting this vision through my work in the health promotions department. As the youth developer, I conduct integrated HIV and STI testing, counseling, referrals, and linkages to other care services. I have gained considerable knowledge about the network of support that community partners have created to help youth as well as the barriers to care, education, and access that many young people face. I also lead facilitation of the sexual wellness advocacy by teens (SWAT) program, a unique school-based peer health education program. Through the SWAT program, I have been able to interact with diverse youth in various schools in D.C. Working with these young people has challenged the way I think about my role as a youth advocate. This experience has allowed me to grow not only as a mentor but also as an individual. My time at LAYC has been invaluable. Every day, I find purpose and meaning in my work, and am honored to serve at the only multi-service youth development organization that offers multi-cultural and multi-lingual services to youth of all backgrounds in the D.C. area.”
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, helping women achieve stability in their housing, income, employment, and health. Team member Miya Walker 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.
“My time spent at N Street Village has made for an amazing experience that has challenged me, humbled me, and given me many laughable moments. Most days I am at Bethany Women’s Center, which is a day center that functions as an entry point for clients seeking housing, and offers daytime support to some of the residents living in the connected housing programs. I perform important daily tasks that keep the center running, such as serving meals, handing out over-the-counter medication, and providing access to toiletries and clothes. The most significant take-away for me comes from the time spent just sitting and listening to the women. My role is to build rapport with women so that as things change in their lives, I am up-to-date and able to offer resources. While I do have knowledge to give, N Street Village has also been a place where I have learned so much. The women are, on many accounts, a reflection of the issues with systems they interact with, and as such, they have a lot of information to share. This placement, rooted in direct service, will continue to inform my decisions well beyond this program. Every day is a new challenge. N Street Village offers a community of “respect, recovery, and hope” that I wouldn’t change for the world.”
Whitman-Walker Health (WWH) is a nonprofit health organization providing comprehensive, accessible health care and community services in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region. This year, WWH hosted four members. Austin Peer serves as a health educator and PrEP coordinator, Hannah Gray serves as an HIV tester and REALTalk workshop facilitator, Sarah Steffen serves as an HIV tester and risk reduction counselor with the +1 and healthy relationships programs, and Quinten Dicken is the volunteer coordinator and HIV tester/ health educator.
“At WWH, we meet people where they are, through services like off-site community outreach and low-barrier or free care and support. In my time at WWH, I have been challenged to rethink ways to achieve domestic health equity. In many global health case studies that I read as an undergraduate, interventions failed because they addressed one barrier to care while ignoring others. WWH is unique because it overcomes this common problem through the breadth of its services and its commitment to all the communities we serve. From legal services and research, to public benefits and behavioral health, we are able to provide comprehensive and culturally competent care for patients of all backgrounds. I am lucky to work within both community health and the gay men’s health and wellness (GMHW) clinic at WWH. As a health educator, I provide clients with HIV testing, sexual health education and risk reduction counseling, and referral services for daytime testing clients. I also coordinate an evidence-based pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) school for transgender women of color, with the goal of empowerment through education, so that this community can begin to benefit from the incredible HIV prevention power of PrEP. At our GMHW clinic, I serve as the PrEP coordinator and I assist with STI screening, HIV testing, and registration so that the clinic runs smoothly. Additionally, I educate patients about PrEP and all its requirements, and I assist those interested with the initiation process or help navigate them to other departments that may be required. Clinic is an ever-evolving and fast-paced experience, and I love the dynamic environment where teamwork and a little sweat allows us to see as many patients as possible every Tuesday and Thursday night. WWH has already transformed my perspective on so-called “hard to reach” populations, and has provided me with invaluable skills that will help me throughout my career in public health and medicine. I am so excited for all of the lessons to come as I finish my service year.”
“I have the privilege of working with WWH Youth Services as a HIV tester and REALTalk DC workshop facilitator. I provide HIV and STI testing and counseling, primarily to youth between the ages of 13-24, both in the drop-in center and at various high schools and colleges. I also assist with “bootcamp,” a 6-week long program where through a series of workshops, we teach youth about various topics surrounding sexual health and wellness as well as job preparedness. We work to ensure that the youth who come into this space are given as many resources as possible in order to help them succeed and live happier, healthier lives. However, the space is so much more than just an educational health center. We provide a number of different activities like “think fit Thursdays,” where the youth engage in some sort of physical activity or “floetic Fridays,” where youth can perform their own songs or poetry. These, among other activities, provide all youth with a fun and safe space to play and relax after school. My favorite part about working at WWH is just how much fun we have while interacting with the youth. I have not had a single day where I wasn’t able to laugh with them or with my amazing coworkers. While we provide educational resources and fun activities for our youth, a huge part of what we do is just being present. We make a point to set aside the time to talk with youth about their day, how school is going, or what life is like at home—and it’s very clear how much that means to them. I have absolutely loved my experience with WWH Youth Services. Working here has allowed me to see just how important our work is and how much I love doing it.”
“I love my job. It is challenging, inspiring, hopeful, unique, and, often times, surprising. As the +1 peer mentor coordinator at WWH, I manage a mentorship program that pairs newly diagnosed clients with an experienced HIV+ mentor who has been in care longer than the mentee. The two clients meet, often for coffee or lunch, and talk about any issues, big or small, that the mentee may be facing. Thanks to my job at WWH, I have learned more about HIV, and realized that public health is where I want to focus my career. Some of my most memorable conversations have been with clients whose lives have changed for the better, despite their HIV diagnosis. We often have a hard time seeing the silver lining in an HIV diagnosis, but my clients amaze me in that regard on a daily basis. I am also an HIV tester, and it has been a privilege to talk to people about their sex practices and help them think about how they can practice healthier routines, whether that means more direct conversations with partners, consistent condom use, or starting birth control or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). I would not trade this year with WWH for anything, and I look forward to working in sex education and health policy in the future, building from the foundation I have gained this year.”
“For my service year, I have had the privilege of serving as a health educator and volunteer coordinator in the community health department of WWH. This experience has been everything I hoped for and more. Having essential roles in testing and counseling, managing volunteers, and organizing outreach events, I am able to not only personally learn and grow, but also feel like I have an important role and impact in my organization and community. It is unlike any other job or internship I have had in the past, and I do not know of any other opportunities where I could have such an important role straight out of graduation. While counseling and testing for HIV, I work with an extremely diverse client base, where each person is in a different situation facing unique obstacles. I have learned the importance of meeting people where they are, and cultural competence when working with diverse populations. Such skills are essential, no matter the line of work one goes into. While serving as the volunteer coordinator, I get to play a role in directly engaging the community in addressing the HIV epidemic through training and education. This year I have been able to gain experience working with people one-on-one, while at the same time, work towards broader health goals for the whole Washington, D.C. community. Those specific aspects of my position have been critical in preparing me for my future endeavors.”