By Emily Ballard
Naomi Dews’ life as a student at Baylor took an unexpected turn after her father passed in 2010 because of diabetic complications. The following year, she joined Community HealthCorps, a national service organization whose mission is to make health care more accessible to underprivileged people.
Ronald Dews was unable to receive adequate healthcare and education about his condition. Dews said she believes her father would have benefited from being better educated about his condition and from receiving a health care discount Community HealthCorps could have provided him if he would have known about the system.
“I want to give back to people and help save other fathers,” Dews said.
The limited knowledge about health conditions can hinder patients’ chance for recovery or healthcare management. In a study of over 2,000 Americans, the American Diabetes Association found that a majority of Americans lack basic knowledge of diabetes, which will affect one out of three adults in America if current trends continue.
Community HealthCorps across the country delivers a number of services to underprivileged people in need of health care including educating people about nutrition and disease management, helping people navigate and access healthcare and ensuring veteran support.
“As a member, it was rewarding seeing patient stake control of their lives when I’d educate them about diabetes,” Dews said. “I’m all about empowering people.” One of her goals is to inform diabetes patients that the numbers assigned to their blood glucose levels are not arbitrary numbers but something that can be controlled.
The Waco division of Community HealthCorps is recruiting students or recent graduates to work the upcoming term that begins Sept. 1 and extends through July 31, 2015. Members receive a stipend every two weeks, health and dental insurance, childcare if needed and will work around students’ schedules, Dews said.
Community HealthCorps member receive the Segal AmeriCorps Education award, worth $5,645, upon completion of 1700 hours of service in a year. The money included in the award encourages members to pursue higher education and can be used up to seven years after the award is received, according to their website.
Dr. Lauren Barron, a primary care physician, works at the Family Health Clinic which partners with Community HealthCorps in delivering healthcare to Waco area residents. She said the program seems like a hidden gem for students who are looking for work.
“It’s too good to be true,” she said.
Dews said applicants do not have to be pre-health majors or have pre-health degrees to work for the organization. An art major and a history major are part of the Waco team this year. A desire to serve the community, however, is a requirement.
“We think of health as having many facets,” Dews said. “We try to integrate your sills into our program.”
Community HealthCorps member Preston Blackburn graduated from Baylor this past December with a degree in fashion merchandising. He has visited local Waco ISD schools to talk to children about dental hygiene and the tooth fairy and to adolescents about sex education.
“I think it’s a taste of the real world,” Blackburn said. “You have to explain things to people in ways that make them know you care. You understand that outside Baylor there’s a whole new world that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise.”
His main task is to help ex-offenders re-integrate into community after jail. His love for socializing helps his complete these tasks, he said.
“I really enjoy being able to call patients with good news and letting them know they’ve been approved or qualify for a certain program and knowing you make a difference in someone’s life,” Blackburn said.
He explained that even though his work is enjoyable, navigating the U.S. healthcare system poses a challenge for seeing whether or not patients qualify for health insurance. He helps patients send their health information to the national healthcare headquarters who would make the decision. Since the decision was made to not extend Medicaid, fewer people receive healthcare benefits.
“Sometimes you have those cases where there’s not much you can do, even when in your heart you want to. But we can direct them elsewhere,” he said.
Community HealthCorps members can extend their service up to four years. Dews said she has a couple of members who are in their gap year between undergraduate studies and medical school or nursing school.
As she transitioned from a member to coordinator, she now oversees hiring, training and evaluating the performance of the 22 HealthCorps members in Waco. She also organizes service projects and team building activities.
Blackburn will be using his education award money to pursue a master’s degree in business administration.
“I feel like Community HealthCorps shows you other things you might be interested in,” Blackburn said. “I learned I want to be more of a leader.”