Making Connections Count

After 11 months of service with National Civilian Community Corps or NCCC as it’s better known, I thought I understood AmeriCorps. When entering into service with another branch of AmeriCorps, I understood that there would be differences. Coming from constant travel, unusual work hours, and changing projects that my team and I undertook with NCCC, I thought I understood flexibility. It wasn’t until the first day in my office that I would be occupying for my entire term with National Health Corps (NHC) that I understood the other side to flexibility: routine. When I started at the Health Federation of Philadelphia’s Early Head Start, there was a whirlwind of introductions. I met countless individuals within Health Federation who have made a lasting impression. The network of resources that has been available to me has been incredibly helpful while making the transition from NCCC to NHC. I am the first AmeriCorps member that Early Head Start has hosted. Being the first AmeriCorps member at your host site is exciting as well as intimidating. You are responsible for setting the tone for future volunteers and for educating the staff about AmeriCorps. 
Early Head Start provides educational resources for families with children ages 0-3. Prenatal and postnatal care offered as well as home visits with an emphasis on early childhood education. Early Head Start takes a holistic approach to wellness and includes health education in its curriculum. I assist with health education for staff and families to further bridge the gap of health education. Many of these workshops are housed at our Wellness Center, which also serves as a space for families and staff to relax, during the day and access health resources. My position is about forming contacts with health professionals such as nutritionists, aroma therapists, fitness instructors etc. Forming relationships with these health professionals is the first step in setting up classes in our Wellness Center for our families and staff. These classes are in place to help bridge the gap of health education and offer exposure to alternative remedies, such as Aromatherapy, and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. There is a lot of work that goes into putting on these classes but it all begins with contact. My first cold call to a health professional felt awkward and intimidating. Asking them to donate their time to Early Head Start was unfamiliar territory. Eventually with practice I became comfortable navigating these conversations and speaking about Early Head Start and all the organization does for the community.
There are still times when I struggle to make contact or find the right fit for what I am trying to achieve. I knew coming into this program that there were certain health topics that I wanted to bring to the Wellness Center. One of these topics was HIV education and testing. I wanted to become more informed myself and to promote the education and testing of the families and staff at Early Head Start. I had the drive but I was struggling to get started, that’s when I turned our program staff at NHC. I reached out and communicated my interest and I was handed invaluable contacts. These contacts started an email chain, which sparked a few phone conversations. Each person I spoke to was passionate, excited, and eager to help. I now have a strong partnership with a passionate individual at Action Wellness. We are working together to set up a series of events at our Wellness Center educating about HIV as well as offering free testing services to families. I am hopeful that this contact will serve well for Early Head Start during my service term and beyond and be one step closer to de-stigmatizing HIV here in Philadelphia.

This blog post was written by NHC Philadelphia member Casey Schattler.
Casey serves as a Health & Wellness Coordinator at the Health Federation of Philadelphia Early Head Start Program.