Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program’s AmeriCorps Program is unique in a plethora of ways, not the least of which is that it is one of four corps set in a health care setting in the entire country. BHCHP has valued service corps since 2005 when we first started accepting corps members into our program and, after seeing the value corps members provide, we’ve maintained a service corps program ever since.
In talking with our AmeriCorps Program Director, Esther Kawesa (photo to the right), who started at BHCHP in March of 2021, she shared even more ways that BHCHP’s AmeriCorps program is unique. Esther, who herself is an AmeriCorps National alum, is warm and effervescent as she describes her path through AmeriCorps and to BHCHP.
“So many people who experience homelessness blend into the background for a majority of us. We don’t make eye contact or hurry by people on the corner. I’ve always carried around a few extra dollars and make sure to maintain eye contact with people who ask me for money. We all deserve to feel like human beings and, sometimes I think, as a society, we forget that people experiencing homelessness are human beings,” says Esther, when describing why she’s so passionate about working at BHCHP.
On AmeriCorps she says, “AmeriCorps taught me how adaptable I am,” she says, “It made me confident in my ability to pivot and go with the flow. I love this opportunity with BHCHP because it allows me to give back to a program that gave me so much [AmeriCorps] while allowing me to serve the community I’m in [BHCHP].”
Esther describes this corps as a dedicated, tenacious group of people. “They are really hard working,” she says, affection for her corps apparent in her voice, “They’re teeming with fresh ideas and unique ways of looking at problems.” BHCHP stands out to Esther as an organization that truly values the work and drive of their AmeriCorps members, “Every single department across the program speaks with appreciation for their Americorps member; it’s clear that these members are valued. They aren’t treated like an intern or written off because of their young age, they are respected and their opinions matter. That doesn’t happen everywhere.”
Furthermore, our AmeriCorps members are very prepared for future careers in health care. Over the past two years, 83% of members have entered into medical school, 33% attained a full-time position with BHCHP or other employer in the health care field and 17% are either preparing for or have entered into a graduate degree program in the health care field.
To this point, Esther recalls the first time she met Cecilia Ibeabuchi, a beloved nurse at our St. Francis House Foot Clinic, “Cecilia has a wall of former AmeriCorps members,” Esther says, “she’ll point to each individual and know exactly where they ended up. She’ll say, ‘She’s a surgeon now, he’s a family physician.’ It’s incredible to know how well-prepared these corps members are and how remembered they are by BHCHP.”
BHCHP was recently featured in a Boston Globe op ed about how young people are increasingly interested in public health and hospitals and health centers should take advantage of this burgeoning interest. We are proud to be the only health center in Massachusetts allowing AmeriCorps members to work in health corps work.
“Having a dedicated AmeriCorps member for the BHCHP Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) has been invaluable for us; they have helped to extend and enhance our women’s health services in many meaningful ways,” says BHCHP’s Associate Medical Director Melinda Thomas, PA-C, “This year, as we navigated the complexities of caring for our patients during COVID, the WHI AmeriCorps member was able to keep focused on the health education and care navigation aspects of patient care which allowed the clinical staff to focus on the more immediate health needs. She developed patient education materials, provided care coordination, set up health fairs and helped us organize important health screening interventions. In our busy clinical practice, she was essential in driving these helpful interventions forward and our patients benefit from that."
Esther shared in closing, “I hope other health centers and health care non-profits will look to BHCHP as a leader and a pioneer in this field. We have demonstrated the enormous value that AmeriCorps members bring to our program and the hands-on education they receive while giving their time to us. I think it could radically change health care from a rushed and pressured industry to one fueled by compassion and clinical precision; our corps members help the program have a personal touch and allows us to zero in on very specific issues.” These two things: clinical precision and compassion coexist at BHCHP and we continue to be grateful for our AmeriCorps members, who contribute to the rich fabric of our work.