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Letter to the Editor

Rollins alumnus shares her experience working with the Philadelphia Health Corps.

At 4:30 on a Thursday afternoon, Rachel and I were wrapping up for the day and heard a knock on our office door.  One of our patients, CeCe (patient’s real name was hidden due to HIPPA regulations)*, came into our office, sat on our couch, and burst into tears.  She explained how her family was going through hard times—her mother-in-law passed away, she had recently been cut down to working only two days a week, and she went home to find that her family only had one can of food left and no money in their bank account.

Overwhelmed, CeCe explained that she had refrained from crying to stay strong for her husband, but could not hold it in anymore. Rachel and I vigorously looked for any resources we could find around the city for her family to get free meals. We encountered many of the same problems that people face when trying to access these programs—being placed on hold for 20 minutes, finding that many organizations had discontinued numbers, or that some were very specific about who they helped.

After an hour and a half of doing research and calling as many organizations as we could, CeCe had a stack of papers listing the different places she could get free meals, as well as get services to help her apply for Food Stamps. As she left, she thanked us for showing her that her family could bounce back from these challenges.  After our door closed, Rachel and I looked at each other, took a deep breath, and realized how much our job goes beyond its job description.

Moving from Central Florida to Philadelphia served as a defining moment of professional and personal transformation for me. Having never lived outside of Florida, I was hesitant about withstanding the cold weather and the rumored lack of “brotherly love” for which Philadelphia was known.

However, after just a short time of working at Health Center 6 on Girard Avenue as a Patient Advocate with the Philadelphia Health Corps, I surprised even myself. My experience in Philadelphia proved to be an overwhelmingly positive, life-changing experience. As Patient Advocates, my co-worker Rachel and I help uninsured patients apply to programs where they can qualify to get a year’s worth of free medication. In just the past five months, we were able to provide medication to over 650 people. Each year our patients and health centers save $20,000 by securing these free medications. With this experience, I have felt the most fulfilled when my patients come to our office seeking help and leave smiling because they know they will be able to afford their medication.

As a Rollins alum, I am thankful that Rollins provided a foundation for me to explore my personal boundaries and prepare me for times where people like CeCe need me. Now that I am planning on attending medical school in the fall, I am happy to know that my service as an AmeriCorps member has not only helped a number of patients but has also greatly prepared me for my future career as a physician. Unlike my previous medical experiences, the Philadelphia Health Corps has given me the opportunity to learn about medically under-served communities and to interact with patients as a young professional.

Additionally, I have had the opportunity to work with a dedicated group of ordinary citizens and to see how together we can make positive impacts in our local community. This year, AmeriCorps is celebrating its 20th Anniversary, and I want to encourage more Rollins students to recognize and celebrate the work that AmeriCorps members do to help improve their local community, including ones that serve at Rollins.

Recognizing how AmeriCorps members and alumni have impacted our communities will not only show us how our communities have grown, but will also encourage students and future generations to strive to live by the message that AmeriCorps and Rollins share—working to make a better, stronger community.

-Shalini Allam ‘13

*Text “(patient’s real name was hidden due to HIPPA regulations)” was added on April 11, 2014 at 8:14 p.m.

The opinions on this page do not necessarily reflect those of The Sandspur, its staff or Rollins College.

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