Jackie, one of our medical assistants, is a steady and welcome presence at our clinic in Boston’s Southampton Street 438-bed men’s shelter. On any given day, she’s deftly multitasking: calming anxious patients, ascertaining their symptoms, taking vital signs, and assisting with benefits. She’s talented; balancing precision with a warmth that radiates throughout the clinic. And our patients respond to her by letting down their guard, sharing their struggles and asking for help.
And there’s a reason Jackie is so empathetic to our patients. Jackie was once homeless and a patient of our Family Team at BHCHP when she was a young single mother. Born in the late ‘70s in North Carolina, Jackie shares her own upbringing, “We didn’t have much and we moved around a lot.” Her mother relocated the family to Boston, “I was three years old the first time I came to Boston.”
Later, Jackie moved to North Carolina to finish high school, started a family and worked hard as a single parent. In 1997, she returned to Boston with her two small children to be closer to her family but struggled to find affordable housing and a job. As her situation became more dire, Jackie became despondent. Fortunately, someone told her about one of our partner shelters, St. Mary’s Center in Dorchester, a home for women and families.
It was while staying at St. Mary’s that Jackie and her children met our remarkable BHCHP Family Team. “The BHCHP team at St. Mary’s treated my daughters and me like we were real human beings,” Jackie says, “I’ll never forget that. We weren’t just a number to them. I can’t tell you the difference that made for me.”
“Our Family Team works to meet the needs of each individual patient using a trauma-informed approach,” says Georgia Thomas, Director of our Family Team, “Homelessness can fracture families. We work with them to provide primary care, mental health care, and social services that inform our ability to provide medical care. Our goal is to make sure that families leave our clinics feeling supported, valued, and experience dignity and respect while receiving that care.”
“I didn’t know how I was going to do it,” Jackie says now, her voice filled with emotion. “This woman from BHCHP sat down with me, held my hands, and said, ‘We are going to take care of you. We will work with you and get you through this.’ That woman made a significant impact on me and my children. She seemed to inherently understand the stress of being a single parent. So, in addition to caring for our health needs, she would also help with the children; so I could make it to appointments and do the things I needed to do to get us out of homelessness.”
The years went by, Jackie found housing, went back to school, and became a medical assistant, but she never forgot her experience with BHCHP, “I am so grateful for what BHCHP did for me.”
In 2018, Jackie was thrilled to see a job opening as a medical assistant at BHCHP, but wasn’t sure she was qualified. “So I called my mom and she said, ‘Jacqueline, this is you coming full circle. This is your gratitude job.' And you know what? I got the job!”
“Jackie has a strong skill set and has over time built up a great rapport with our patients,” says her supervisor Shannon Dolan. “She is the first face people see when they enter the clinic. She helps create a warm, trusting, and non-judgmental atmosphere for the clinic staff and patients. We are lucky to have her!”
“I can sympathize and empathize with my patients,” Jackie says, “I tell them, ‘I too came from nothing.’ I know what nothing feels like and I’m going to try my best to ease their pain like BHCHP did for me when I needed it. There’s something about coming full circle…about really helping the people who are where I once was. We offer great care and great services and we treat people like they’re people.”
Now, Jackie has her own home and is a mom to three grown daughters. She says her experience as a BHCHP patient instilled in her a deep sense of compassion for those experiencing homelessness. “My friends and family call my home the ‘Home for Little Wanderers’” Jackie tells us, smiling broadly, “Anyone who needs a place knows they can always knock on my door. I treat everyone like a person. And I won’t treat you like anything less than that.”
Since 1985, BHCHP’s Family Team has cared for many hundreds of families like Jackie’s each year in our family shelter clinics. Jackie found the health care and support she and her family needed at a very vulnerable time in their lives, and through hard work, was able to turn her circumstances around.
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Thank you for changing lives and giving hope to those who need it the most.