By Jason Patnosh and Anastasia Romanova
Good health is something many of us take for granted, until we get sick. Only then are we reminded of everything it takes to get healthy again. But what if those things were out of reach? Fifty million Americans don’t have access to basic healthcare or know how to get it, a driving force behind why Community HealthCorps, an AmeriCorps program, continues to grow after nearly 20 years of service.
Founded by the National Association of Community Health Centers, Community HealthCorps forms the perfect marriage between national service and public health, placing 500 AmeriCorps members directly into more than 200 community health center locations and offering high-quality health care to the nation’s most underserved and isolated communities. Nearly 7,200 AmeriCorps members have contributed to Community HealthCorps’ success since its inception.
National Reach, Community Focus
The Community HealthCorps experience is different for every AmeriCorps member, because each health center caters to the specific needs of the communities it serves. Yet whether they are enrolling patients into health insurance, running an after-school healthy food club, or coaching a mom through her first pregnancy, members are joined together in their commitment to making good health a choice for all Americans.
Sidra Bonner, a Community HealthCorps alum from Salud Family Health Centers in Ft. Lupton, CO, and current medical student, highlights this commitment, saying, “I serve because I believe health inequality diminishes the American value of equal opportunity.”
Each year, members like Sidra make great strides in reaching the lofty goal of restoring equity in access to care. Between July 2012 and August 2013, members enrolled 63,694 people into health services and assistance programs, making it possible for them to get transportation to a doctor’s appointment or afford the prescription medications they need. Another 124,791 people attended health education courses facilitated by our members on topics ranging from smoking cessation to how to shop and prepare a healthy meal on a limited budget.
Agents of Change
At the core of each member’s service is the opportunity to make a profound change in the health of a community by enhancing and expanding the work being done at their health center.
Community HealthCorps alum, Malcolm Barrett, describes just this as he tells the story of Mateo, a struggling third grader in Michigan who worked slowly and suffered chronic headaches.
“In October 2012, Mateo received his first complete eye exam, revealing a profound need for glasses, which he received a month later. Since receiving his glasses, his teacher notes, ‘He has been soaring! All areas of his academics have gone up; he is much faster and more accurate at completing his work. He no longer has a pained look on his face. He is, overall, a more happy and confident boy.’
“Mateo’s eye exam and glasses were provided at his school at no cost to his parents through the program I serve in through Community HealthCorps at Cherry Street Health Services, a travelling, school-based vision program called See to Succeed (S2S). In its pilot year, S2S provided 856 complete eye exams. We were able to dispense glasses to 603 students; 62.4 percent of whom received glasses for the first time ever, and 17.2 percent of whom were without insurance. In the 2013-2014 school year, many more students, like Mateo, will see things clearly for the very first time thanks to S2S.”
Many Community HealthCorps members have experienced stories like Malcolm’s, often inspiring them to pursue a career in community health or public service after completing their term. More than 60 of the 2012-2013 graduating member class accepted positions at the health centers where they served or other health-focused agencies and another 144 are now in medical school or a health-related degree program.
A continued passion for health and working with underserved communities has been a common thread for Community HealthCorps alums. We salute 20 years of AmeriCorps – Getting Things Done!
Jason Patnosh is Associate Vice President and National Director of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) Anastasia Romanova is a program specialist at the Community HealthCorps and NACHC. March has been designated Healthy Futures month for the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary celebration. To learn more about the celebration, visit the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary portal.