AmeriCorps Members Touch the Lives of Women in Jacksonville

Posted on: February 12, 2014Florida
NFHC members, Tara, Maddy, and Katie
NFHC AmeriCorps members, Tara Fredenburg (River Region Human Services), Maddy Spahr (UF Health - Healthy Start), and Katie Grand (Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition) come together to make a difference

“Hi, my name is Maddy, and I am an AmeriCorps member serving with UF Health Jacksonville.  I am going to go over your Healthy Start questionnaire with you.  Healthy Start is a program that offers resources and referrals to pregnant women to help them have a healthy pregnancy and healthy children.  Do you have any questions?”

I start every conversation with patients the same way.  Most patients answer “no.”  Some ask how long it will take or if they can talk with me at a different time.  On two different occasions, however, patients stopped me in the middle and replied, “AmeriCorps?! I met another AmeriCorps member in Jacksonville.” 

The first time it happened, I was two months into my year of service.  It was a Wednesday morning, and the clinic was busier than normal.  I had just finished speaking with a particularly difficult patient and was ready for a lunch break.  

I looked up from the woman’s Healthy Start questionnaire and explained that there are a number of AmeriCorps members in Jacksonville.  She went on to tell me that she was a client at River Region, a substance abuse treatment center, where she received methadone treatment every morning.  While there, she was connected with one of their AmeriCorps members. 

I knew immediately it had to be one of my fellow North Florida Health Corps members.  There are two who serve at River Region, one member provides case management services and the other increases access to River Region’s primary care health services.

Before I was even able to ask who it was, the woman excitedly mentioned she had met with Tara, who provides case management services at River Region.  She then went on to explain that Tara helped her apply for food stamps and find a safe and affordable apartment, so that her family would not only have food but also a home to enjoy it. 

NFHC AmeriCorps member, Maddy, hugging a client.
A client expressing gratitude to Maddy for the services she and other AmeriCorps members provide in the Jacksonville community

In the midst of discussing this with me, she started crying.  She explained that she was so grateful Tara had taken the time to help her with such great respect and dignity--Tara would never know how important all this was to her.

The second time someone stopped me, the woman said she had met someone with long brown hair in a McDonalds.  Confused at first about which AmeriCorps member would be in a McDonalds, I soon realized that it was Katie, the outreach specialist for the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition. Katie frequently meets patients in fast food establishments and other public places.  Katie finds pregnant women from around Jacksonville who may not be receiving prenatal care and helps connect them to services through these meetings.

Similar to my first experience, this patient sang Katie’s praises.  She explained that Katie helped fill out her pregnancy Medicaid application forms and enrolled her in Healthy Start.  The hour Katie spent with her, she explained, had a huge influence on her pregnancy.  She was able to receive prenatal care because Katie had helped her apply for insurance, and she had a case manager from Healthy Start who followed up with her twice a month to ensure she received the services she needed for a healthy pregnancy and newborn.

Oftentimes, in our service as NFHC AmeriCorps members, the impact we have on the people we serve is difficult to see.  These two experiences, however, opened my eyes to how vital our service is to the Jacksonville community.  They reaffirmed my commitment to advocate for those who are marginalized in our society and are a constant source of motivation when the going gets tough, as it inevitably does when you commit to a year of service.  I left the room on both those occasions not wondering if what I was doing was important, but knowing that the other Corps members and I were having a tangible impact on health in Jacksonville.

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