A Year of Learning: Reflections on Community Service at Heartland Health Centers

Posted on: June 23, 2022Chicago

My name is Tanéha Fincher and for the past ten months I have had the privilege of serving as a NHC Chicago member and Health Educator for Heartland Health Centers. While serving as a Health Educator, I instructed courses that allowed me to facilitate honest dialogue around sexual health/wellbeing topics for students attending Chicago Public Schools. Additionally, I provided nutrition counseling to help students understand and address their health needs. 

In totality, my professional experience as a NHC Chicago member and Health Educator has been memorable because I learned more about the world of healthcare while simultaneously supporting a local community cause. As my time concludes, I offer five points of reflection that collectively characterize my experience. 

 

  1. Nutrition is more complex than food. 

While nutrition relates mainly to what goes into one's body, it is essential to consider also the role a student's mental state plays in goals focused on nutrition. From my experiences, I believe a student's mental health status is directly related to nutrition goals. For some of my students who wanted to lose or gain weight it would be a struggle for them because they were really stressed out about school or things they had going on in their personal lives. There would be times when I would meet with a student for nutrition counseling and we would spend our whole session talking about issues they were having at home or with a friend. Although nutrition-oriented goals are essential, it is hard for students to focus on their nutritional goals when they do not feel safe at home or are facing stress from school. Thus, to address these concerns, I allowed students to vent during their nutrition sessions. By connecting with them on a deeper level about more underlying problems, I feel that I was able to help them get closer to their individualized health goals. 

 

  1. Boundary setting is important. 

Earlier on in my service term, any time someone from my host site would ask me to do something I would say “yes”. I never liked telling people “no” because I did not want to feel like I was letting others down. However, I quickly felt the adverse effects of burnout and exhaustion. While feeling these emotions, I realized that I let myself and others down when I do not set boundaries. While feeling burned out and exhausted, I was unhappy, and I realized that experiencing those things is not helpful for productivity or mission-driven service. So, as my time at Heartland Health Centers concludes, I am incredibly appreciative of my fellow corps members who helped me realize how important the word “no” is. Through their encouragement, I found and set my limits to ensure I was not spreading myself too thin. 

 

  1. Take the time to build relationships. 

My service year was impacted the most by the people that I served and got to encounter. I was able to build relationships with my students, my fellow NHC Chicago corps members, the Heartland Health Centers staff, and the staff and faculty in the schools I served at. I can honestly say that without those relationships I am not sure that I would have made it through my service term. You need people to encourage you and lift you up when you are unable to do those things for yourself. You need people who genuinely care about how you are doing. You need people who believe in you. During my service term I met individuals who provided me with all of those things and so much more.

 

  1. Things are rarely personal. 

During the months that I was teaching, I had some days when I felt like the students did not care about what I was saying, and the teachers were not appreciative of the service that I was doing. This left me feeling very discouraged and unappreciated. However, I realized  it was not that the students did not like me. It was that they needed a more interactive style of learning than what I was providing. Instead of taking the expressions and opinions of my students personally, I stopped to assess what was working and what was not. As a result of that assessment, I began incorporating activities, worksheets, and games into every lesson I taught. After making this slight, highly impactful change, I saw substantive progress in student participation. While there will always be feelings and expressions involved in every professional role, the reality of every service environment is that one does not know what's going on in someone's life until they stop to ask or think about it. Everyone brings their struggles with them to every space that they take up, but it's imperative to know that most times, the way that people may act towards you or treat you is not a reflection of you, but of them and the issues or struggles that they may be having. 

 

  1. What it means to serve.

To serve means to give freely and expect nothing in return. Service is about passion. I serve because I care about the populations that are impacted by the service that I do. It can be tough to show up every day and give if you do not care about what you are doing or cannot see its meaning. I am passionate about improving healthcare and health services for oppressed populations, which encouraged me to show up day in and day out. I promise never to stop showing up for the communities and issues I care about the most. 

 

 

Host Site

HHC-Albany Park
3737 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, IL 60625

HHC-Devon
1300 W. Devon Ave., Chicago, IL 60660

HHC-Lakeview
3048 N. Wilton Ave., Chicago, IL 60657

HHC-Lincoln Square
2645 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, IL 60625

HHC-Wilson
845 W. Wilson Ave., Chicago, IL 60640

HHC-Hibbard Elementary School
4930 N. Sawyer Ave., Chicago, IL 60625

HHC-Senn High School
5900 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago, IL 60660

HHC-Kilmer Elementary School
6700 North Greenview Ave, Chicago, IL 60626

HHC-Sullivan High School
6631 N Bosworth Ave, Chicago, IL 60626

HHC-Roosevelt High School
3436 W. Wilson Ave., Chicago, IL 60625

HHC-Albany Park
3737 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, IL 60625

HHC-Devon
1300 W. Devon Ave., Chicago, IL 60660

HHC-Lakeview
3048 N. Wilton Ave., Chicago, IL 60657

HHC-Lincoln Square
2645 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, IL 60625

HHC-Wilson
845 W. Wilson Ave., Chicago, IL 60640

HHC-Hibbard Elementary School
4930 N. Sawyer Ave., Chicago, IL 60625

HHC-Senn High School
5900 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago, IL 60660

HHC-Kilmer Elementary School
6700 North Greenview Ave, Chicago, IL 60626

HHC-Sullivan High School
6631 N Bosworth Ave, Chicago, IL 60626

HHC-Roosevelt High School
3436 W. Wilson Ave., Chicago, IL 60625