On the Other Side of Fear by Julie Engle

“How the heck are you going to provide for and feed yourself?” my father argued, trying to convince me to consider other options to spend my year. Freshly out of another Americorps program, National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), I didn’t know if I had another year of service in me. I am not going to sugarcoat it, a year of service is HARD, but I would not change my experience for the world.  I will say that my first year in AmeriCorps helped me immensely in my own personal growth and self-confidence, but as a previous Public Health student and aspiring public health professional, I wanted to find a way to serve people in the way I felt called to do so. I wanted to help improve the health outcomes and wellness of the public but on an individual level, and through this urge I stumbled across the National Health Corps.  But how will I be able to be of service to others if I don’t know how I am going to take care of myself? Coming from NCCC, a program that provided shelter, a food budget, and a living stipend, I anticipated new challenges.  My biggest fear going into this service term in the Health Corps was whether or not I would be able to live happily and well on the AmeriCorps living stipend.  I wasn’t sure, but I am so happy that I went through with taking this chance on myself because honestly it has completely transformed my perspective, and life.

Growing up, I never noticed a lack of anything, or stress from my parents.  Through my financial stresses this year, my eyes have been opened to the struggles many people face day after day, year after year as they try to simply live  and provide for their families.  Although the position I am in is temporary (don’t get me wrong I dread the day this incredible experience is over), it has been absolutely essential in being  able to truly empathize with and advocate for the populations we serve. Having to make decisions each day, prioritizing how I am spending or saving my money, and having to make sacrifices when my budget didn’t work out as anticipated around the time bills are due has given me a glimpse into what it is like to live on a tight budget.  I quickly learned that the amount of support and exposure to resources have made it much more manageable for myself as well as my patients in their daily lives.  As AmeriCorps members, we qualify for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as ‘food stamps’), and many of us benefit from this program.  Many Health Corps members will find affordable housing together to save money, and there are also many different websites, including the “Philadelphia Affordable Housing” Facebook page, that post consistently different affordable living options.  Also, with such a diverse and progressive city, there are many ways to save money, get healthy nutritious foods, and make some extra money depending on whatever life style and budget one might be working with.

Yes, there are many stresses, but a high emphasis on self-care, conversations on how to create a safe environment, all of the training and exposure we receive through our Pre-Service Orientation Training, and monthly member meetings all have helped provide resources to deal with these stressors. During our member trainings, the program staff have intentionally brought in speakers to educate us on topics such as budgeting, financial aid, preparation for graduate program interviews, improving credit scores, and many more “adulting” topics.  Through connecting us with these people and resources, they are always in support of the Corps members’ overall well-being - financially, mentally, and emotionally, to set us up for success in our professional and personal lives.  In the heart of my service in the National Health Corps, I will say that these supportive qualities and knowledge give me hopes for my future, and deepen my gratitude of this city while I pursue my professional career in service.