The aroma of instant coffee and chamomile tea arrived nicely to my nose as I poked my head in to get a look at the elder’s enclave. As I watched them from a distance I chose my table of participants with much enthusiasm and precision. One table in particular caught my attention because there sat an older woman who’s demeanor spoke of dissatisfaction and melancholy spirit. Leave it to me to target those individuals who seem the most in distress, there is something inside me that mobilizes my every cell to reach out to those that display depressive symptoms. I believe I owe this in some regard to my training and work with the Research study on Depression that I have become so involved with through HealthCorps. Although there were so many “Abuelos” to choose from my spirit gravitated towards this one particular woman. As I sat next to her she sized me up and down and asked in her Ecuadorian Spanish, “Who are you?” I smiled and said in my Spanish-is-my-second language-Spanish, “My name is Jessica and I’m here with my AmeriCorps friends to celebrate Abuelos Day with you, are you a grandmother?” She said “Of course! I have 14 grandchildren and I even have great grandchildren!” I said, “Wow! Can you tell me, what is your favorite part about being a grandmother?” The conversation went on and we deviated from what it is like to be a grandmother, onto her personal childhood. I was able to get her to reminisce about her favorite memories as a young girl in Ecuador. Up to this point she still had not smiled and still seemed troubled, then all of a sudden the most wonderful thing happened.... As she began to tell me about how when she was just a teenager she would sell “Tortillas” (emphasis on the double “l” with an Ecuadorian accent sounds like “Torishaz”) in front of her grandmother’s house, her face lit up! As I repeated the word “tortilla” in the same accent back to her, her entire aura changed and she smiled and laughed for the first time since I had been there! She said, “Hey, you say tortilla like me!” I said, “Yes! I studied in South America for some time and picked it up!” She was so enamored by this cultural-linguistic exchange that she held my hand and said, “Thank you for making me smile, I can’t remember the last time I had a good laugh…” This exchange almost brought tears to my eyes, I remember feeling so moved by her words and happy I could bring sunshine to her life but I also felt sad that she was in such a desolate place emotionally that not much could bring her happiness. I looked into her eyes, and told her “Thank you for sharing your story and time with me, I will be back.” In so many words her eyes spoke to me with anguish yet were peaceful for just a moment in time, and said “thank you” back to me. Our hearts connected for those brief moments together but I will never forget this woman, and will continue to work hard, motivated by despairing hearts such as hers to help heal those who spirits feel broken down and who desire hope. In a world where some forget about the elderly, I have a newfound passion to serve this older community as a result of my placement with AltaMed AmeriCorps and this particular incident that happened during an AmeriCorps week project. Being able to interview participants at AltaMed's Adult Day Health Centers and PACE sites has intensified my respect for those in their later years of life. I have found a resilience and fire inside of them that yearns to burn free from their chains of pain, and historic oppression. This generation of elders that I have had the privilege to work with is truly one of survivorship, and I intend to honor their story with my continuous work not only as an AmeriCorps member but even as a future professional!
Salvador Navarro, Youth Services Team
"Working as a youth services case management assistant with Community HealthCorps has provided me with endless opportunities to give back to the community. One situation stands out in particular.
One day, a client called and asked me to help her find a place to stay. She explained that she had been kicked out of her grandmother's house due to a dispute they had earlier in the week. As a result of the argument, the client was homeless with her child and stayed in a hotel over the weekend. After getting off the phone with the young client, I spoke with her mother and explained to her the situation her daughter was in. During that conversation, I convinced the client's mother to allow her to move back home with the rest of the family.
I called the client to give her the good news. However, she was hesitant to return home and she cut off our conversation. I discussed the situation with my supervisor who suggested I file a report with the Department of Children and Family Services to resolve the matter in a timely manner. I filed the report and the next day, my client called to apologize for being disrespectful. She also told me she decided to move back into her mother's home.
This experience as an AmeriCorps member truly touched me not only because I was able to reunite a family, but because I was also able to return the baby to a safe and healthy environment."
Magaly Mojarro, Marketing and Outreach Team
"One particularly memorable experience for me was an event called "Healthy Sunday." Healthy Sundays are held at a community church; this one in particular was held at my parish, St. Alfonsus Catholic Church. I assisted AltaMed's marketing department, which does direct outreach to the underserved population of East LA and Orange County. We were able to provide free glucose tests and high blood pressure screenings. I also had the opportunity to speak to many of the potential candidates for the Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). I spoke to a lady who was very sad. She gave me her contact information, and I followed up with her the next day. We arranged a day for her to visit the PACE program. She really enjoyed how the program works and the services AltaMed provides to its patients.
Participating in this event really helped me understand that the people in my community have many needs, but are often unable to receive services due to lack of insurance. These new experiences have truly raised my awareness for the underserved population in my community. I'm very thankful that participating in HealthCorps has enabled me to view my community from a different perspective."
Eder Abellaneda, Marketing and Outreach Team
"One particular event that stands out in my mind was Suenos de Navidad. I felt like I really accomplished a lot that day, because we helped so many people. The event took place at an East Los Angeles King Taco, where children stood in line to sit on Santa's lap and receive a free toy. There must have been a thousand people there! I was in charge of signing people up for the H1N1 and standard flu vaccinations. At first it seemed that it would be a slow day, because everyone was proccupied with receiving free toys.
Fortunately, later in the day as people were exiting the event, more and more people came to our booth to receive flu shots. That day we used all of our shots and the event turned out to be a total success. It was very memorable for me, because I was able to practice handling large crowds by myself. In the past I have been intimidated by crowds, but this time I persevered through a difficult situation and got the job done well!"