by Allie Hamilton
I was running late on Tuesday, August 29th as I parked my car and ran from the parking garage to the Allegheny County Health Department building in my flip flops and dress clothes. Standing in front of the building’s steps, I took my heels out of my backpack and traded them out for the flip flops on my feet. Having just one minute to spare, I took a deep breath and walked into my first day of Pre Service Orientation (PSO) with the National Health Corps Pittsburgh.
Over the next four days, I participated in many trainings, engaged in various activities and gained 20 new friends. The purposes of PSO were twofold. First, it gave us new members a better understanding of AmeriCorps, National Health Corps and NHC Pittsburgh. Second, it trained us to be culturally competent, professional, and educated members of the communities we serve. We learned about the neighborhoods in Pittsburgh and their community demographics. We participated in trainings about health literacy, the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), LGBTQ awareness and health disparities, domestic violence, first aid and more. It may be hard to envision how these trainings can directly translate into action, but already in my first month of service I can see how the PSO trainings have prepared me for direct service.
I am currently serving at two community health centers in Pittsburgh. One of my projects is running a Fitness Tracker Program. For this project, I will enroll 30 patients with chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Each patient will receive a free fitness tracker, and they will be asked to attend fitness classes and nutrition workshops. As I build the program for this year, I find myself thinking a lot about the trainings I received during PSO. During our training on the communities of Pittsburgh, I learned that many Pittsburghers utilize the bus system for their transportation. Knowing this, I made it a priority to find sites for fitness classes close to bus stops so transportation wouldn't be a significant barrier for patients. Another component of PSO was training on SNAP and other food assistance programs that are available to those experiencing food insecurity. Because some patients in the Fitness Tracker Program may be experiencing food insecurity, I am designing nutrition workshops to accommodate these patients. For example, one nutrition workshop will discuss how to access healthy foods on a limited income by making patients aware of existing food assistance programs. In addition, I am planning on organizing healthy cooking classes that use foods that are affordable and accessible. PSO prepared me to think holistically about the communities I am serving so that I am creating programs that will not just look good on paper, but truly have a positive impact on people’s lives.
I was so nervous on that first day of PSO, but I felt better knowing that there were 19 other NHC members in the room that were all having the same nervous yet eager emotions that I was. A large component of PSO was bonding with my group of NHC members through team building activities and discussions. We quickly grew from a group of complete strangers to a close circle of great friends. Our director, Beci, stressed the importance of using each other for support and collaboration. I greatly appreciate the support I've already received from my Corps, and I know that we will only continue to rely on one another. PSO successfully prepared us to be a culturally competent, passionate and collaborative force excited to serve the Pittsburgh communities through the National Health Corps!