An Opportunity for Change by Madeline Smith
I was thrilled about signing up for my first outside service event. It was only my third week serving as an AmeriCorps member and I couldn’t wait to get out into the community and start meeting people. When I arrived, everyone was packaging boxes with random assortments of food. We were giving away white bread, a couple cans of vegetables, packets of frozen meat, and blocks of butter. I thought to myself “this is great, but it won’t last people very long… especially if they have children.” I realized after looking at the food wrappers more closely, that the food contained high amounts of sugar and sodium and no real health benefits. I wanted so badly to give these people more, to be able to actually provide them with resources that would last and be beneficial to their overall health. I realized that the changes I wanted to make were systemic changes. Handing out food at giveaways is necessary and can be extremely helpful in providing families with short-term relief. However, systemic changes need to be made to truly allow people to thrive. I took this thought and began applying it to the service I was conducting at my host site.
I have had the opportunity to serve as an Outreach Coordinator at THE PLAYERS Center for Child Health. I conduct research on the impact COVID-19 has had on children through six focus areas. These areas include mental/behavioral health, food insecurity, the digital divide, maternal and child health, housing insecurity, and vaccination rates. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these problems and so it serves as a lens to try and understand the inequities that already existed in the Jacksonville Community.
While trying to approach each focus area with a mindset for creating long-term equitable solutions, I have come to understand the complexity of systemic problems. Change needs to happen on the local, state and national level to fully address all facets of a health equity issue. It requires an interdisciplinary approach with the understanding that nothing in public health is isolated. Each issue is layered so multiple perspectives are needed in order to gain an overall picture. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I not only see the level of cooperation and coordination needed to address any of the issues listed above, but also the motivation to do better in the Jacksonville community.
Getting to serve with such a creative, empathetic, and motivated group of people at my host site has inspired me to continue my education in public health after my service term ends. I hope to one day be creating policies that address deeply rooted health equity issues. I now see what’s possible and want to someday create solutions in order for our country to take steps towards happier and healthier communities.