Building Relationships to Break Down Barriers
In my first week of service my host site supervisor asked me to attend a celebration at the beach for the previous NHC AmeriCorps member, as she wanted to introduce me to the families that I would interact with often. I was unsure of what to expect as I didn’t anticipate seeing clients more than a handful of times over my service term, but thankfully I was wrong. Building relationships has not only been necessary, but getting to know the clients that I serve on a deeper level has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my service.
The New American Welcome Center (NAWC) is a place for immigrants and refugees to come for assistance with public benefits, learn english, study to become citizens, get access to food, schedule doctors appointments, craft, or anything else that may come up. But most importantly, the NAWC is a community. Little did I know that after this beach day I would be taught to cook the most loved dishes from clients native countries, learn traditional dances and cultural practices, or learn how to sew from women who have crafted with their families for generations. I never would have expected that becoming a health educator also meant becoming a friend, a confidant, a trusted ally, and building relationships that I can only hope will last a lifetime.
These relationships have allowed me to be an effective health educator and create a greater impact in the community that I serve. All of the clients that I serve have been displaced from their native country, and most are learning English. For many, this means navigating an unfamiliar healthcare system, leaving many feeling overwhelmed and confused about how to find care. My role as a health educator is to break down these barriers to healthcare access and empower individuals to take control of their wellness needs.
Building strong relationships with clients throughout my service has been the only way for me to accomplish that. Not only did it take time for clients to begin trusting me with their health needs, but I quickly learned that I couldn’t fully address their needs without a strong relationship. For example, scheduling a doctor's appointment for someone may not simply mean finding a doctor that takes medicaid, but instead one that is also in an area of town that the client is comfortable driving, is available at a time of day that a trusted friend can go with them and their children are in childcare, and in an office that has translators available. These are all barriers I often overlooked at the beginning of my service. Building relationships throughout my service has allowed me to address more than just the health needs that appear on the surface, and instead begin breaking down long term barriers to care that many of these individuals have faced since coming to the United States.
Serving at the NAWC has taught me to listen more closely, to look at the whole picture, and the importance of developing trust. The families that I met on that first day at the beach have become community members that I look forward to seeing each week and who have taught me more than I could have imagined about their home, their culture, and our shared world. I will be forever thankful for the relationships that I have made throughout my service, and moving forward I will always take the time to learn someone's story in order to truly address their health and wellness needs.