What We Bring To The Table

This post was written by Justine Fuga, a Program Assistant with fitUnited of the United Way of Southwestern PA.

How often do you talk about the social determinants of health with friends and family? If this topic does come up in personal conversation, what do you contribute to the dialogue?

I remember past celebrations and gatherings with family. There was always some controversial topic that came up at which point I would just sit back and listen, not really participating in the conversation. When chatting with friends, it was a rare occasion when social and political issues entered the conversation--it just didn’t hold as much significance to us as other topics. Although I may have appeared to just not be interested in those topics, I honestly just didn’t have an opinion on the matter. Until my service with National Health Corps, I had not had many experiences in my life that challenged my beliefs or opinions. My service with National Health Corps is what gave me the tools, experiences, and perspectives needed to contribute to dialogue surrounding many social and political issues, especially social determinants of health.

Throughout our year of service, we are constantly reminded about the impact that our words have on others. While I’ve kept this in mind when approaching the youth and afterschool staff that I serve, I’ve began to do the same when speaking with family and friends. I’ve been able to teach my friends the correct use of pronouns after going through the Sexual Orientation Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) training. Telling my family about the NHC members’ experience with applying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called Food Stamps, has broken down some of the stereotypes they associated with individuals utilizing SNAP. I’ve even had a friend tell me that they consciously made an effort to eat more fruits and vegetables because they remembered that some of the populations I serve do not have easy access to fresh, healthy food.

National Health Corps has challenged me in ways that have given me the awareness, vocabulary, skills and compassion needed to effectively converse with others about public health and other important issues. I’ve seen how sharing my experience with NHC has had an influence on the lives of my loved ones, becoming healthier individuals, appreciative of their privileges and cognizant of the complexities of health. Every conversation I have is an opportunity to advocate, raise awareness and impact those around me with what I’ve learned from NHC. No longer do I sit idly back at the dinner table, or exclude certain topics while chatting with friends. I actively seek opportunities in social settings to contribute something more impactful to the dialogue in the hopes that family, friends and acquaintances will think more deeply about the public health issues at hand.