We’re celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Community Health Center Movement with a special focus on workforce throughout the month of July. Today we begin with a closer look at Community HealthCorps, the largest health-focused AmeriCorps program founded by NACHC in 1995 with the mission of improving healthcare access and boosting the health center workforce. Community HealthCorps Program Specialist Anastasia Romanova is today’s blogger. She interviews Ariella Camera, a Community HealthCorps Alum and 2013 Presidential Management Fellow about her experiences in the program and life thereafter.
AR: When and where did you complete your AmeriCorps term with Community HealthCorps?
AC: I served with Community HealthCorps from 2009-2010, right after graduating from Pennsylvania State University, at Hudson River HealthCare (HRHCARE) in Haverstraw, NY, which is just a few miles away from where I grew up in Rockland County, NY.
AR: Why did you decide to join Community HealthCorps?
AC: I got hooked on the idea of public service in high school while volunteering at the Rockland County Department of Health with Reality Check on the anti-tobacco movement. In college I had the opportunity to volunteer internationally with Global Brigades, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering student volunteers and under-resourced communities to resolve global health and economic disparities. I considered the Peace Corps but AmeriCorps, specifically Community HealthCorps, was a better fit because I really wanted to go back home and serve my local community. As a Biobehavioral Health major, I also wanted to apply what I learned in my studies at Penn State to make a direct impact in the health of a community and to connect my knowledge of healthcare with actual community needs.
AR: What did you do in your service?
AC: My service site was unique because, at the time, it was transitioning from a mobile clinic to a traditional health center. This transition gave me the opportunity to assist in building a partnership with the community center across the street and with other local stakeholders within the community. Half of my time was spent directly in the health center providing patients with referrals to anything from specialty care, like vision, to community resources, like food pantries. When I wasn’t in the health center, I was at the community center where I mostly worked with the local youth and led health education classes.
AR: What do you feel is the biggest impact you made during your service?
AC: Several of my Community HealthCorps teammates and I had the opportunity to create and facilitate a mentorship program at a local high school in Peekskill. Being able to bond with the local students after school on a regular basis was not only incredibly rewarding but gave us a chance to see the positive impact we could have on our students just from being there to listen and encourage them to aim high.
AR: What do you recall as the biggest challenge you had to overcome during your service?
AC: I would say my two biggest challenges also gave me an opportunity to truly understand the population I was serving and further develop my passion for increasing access to quality health care. Throughout my service term, in order to afford rent and other expenses, I had to pick up two other part-time jobs in addition to serving full-time. Living paycheck-to-paycheck and having almost no down time, was one of toughest aspects of my service, but it definitely brought me closer to the patients I served in the health center and the realities of trying to survive off of an income that was below the poverty line. As an AmeriCorps member, I also had very basic health insurance, which made it much more difficult to access specialty care. This helped me empathize with the many people with whom I interacted and served that were in the same situation and something that made me infinitely more grateful and dedicated to my service.
AR: What do you feel is your biggest take away from your service experience?
AC: I can narrow it down to two things. The first would be how critical Community Health Centers are to this country’s healthcare system. During my service, I witnessed firsthand how crucial the health center where I served was for its patients and the nearby communities. It didn’t take long to see that, if Hudson River HealthCare did not exist, the families of that community would likely be unable to meet their basic health needs and would be hard-pressed to find quality healthcare providers truly invested in their well-being. The second would be how important it is to build partnerships and leverage local stakeholders within the community to get involved with the health center initiatives and activities, in order to make a sustainable impact.
AR: How did your service affect the choices you made regarding your professional goals?
AC: Looking back now, my experience as a Community HealthCorps Member gave me direct exposure to the community health field and allowed me to interact with and understand the needs of real life patients and community members. It most definitely helped me get to where I am today and continues to be the foundation of what drives me to stay motivated to serve.
After Community HealthCorps, I wanted to continue in public service as a government employee and started working in the clinical psychiatric research department for the Boston Veteran Affairs Healthcare System. Through my participation in the Boston AmeriCorps Alums chapter, I learned about the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, and pursued my MA in Sustainable International Development. In my second year of graduate school I decided to apply to the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF).
In my first year as a PMF, I had the unique opportunity to support the development and implementation of the Federally Facilitated Marketplace as a part of the Affordable Care Act rollout. Recently, I finished a 5-month rotation with USAID Global Health Bureau focusing on strengthening health care systems and improving quality of care internationally. It has been an unbelievable year to say the least; I felt like I came full circle, getting to be a part of healthcare history in the making and fulfilling a passion for increasing access and strengthening health care systems.
*The views expressed above belong solely to Ariella Camera, and do not represent the official views of the federal government.