Leah Samuels, CC’18, interned at the Washington Heights Corner Project this summer due to funding from the Columbia College Alumni & Parent Internship Fund and the Work Exemption Program. She generously shared a peek into her daily work and reflections on supporting community health initiatives to a vulnerable population. Here is her summer experience in her own words.
Through my internship with Dígame, I take medical Spanish classes in the mornings, and intern at the Washington Heights Corner Project in the afternoons. Looking back at my growth with Spanish this summer has been so rewarding! Our daily Spanish classes cover medical topics ranging from obstetrics to sexual health, and are interspersed with cultural lessons that cover everything from Latin American medical traditions to Dominican slang. Living in Washington Heights this summer has completed my “immersion” experience, and I’ve loved being surrounded by Spanish. I’ve learned how important it is for medical practitioners to be able to speak the same language as their patients, and in NYC, that language is frequently Spanish. I’m grateful for the opportunity to improve upon my Spanish this summer, and wish to continue practicing and speaking the language so I can integrate it into my professional practice.
At the Washington Heights Corner Project (WHCP), I’ve been thrown into the fast-paced life of the non-profit world. Some days require organizing sign-up sheets for Narcan trainings, maintaining Excel documents, and sitting in on meetings, while others include traveling to health fairs, conducting outreach in the South Bronx, and handing out sandwiches at the drop-in center. Every day is different and exciting, and I love the variety in my work. I’ve done some independent and some group projects, and I’ve enjoyed getting one-on-one feedback from the Director of Harm Reduction regarding my work. The close-knit community is passionate about the wellbeing of our participants, and everyone is so dedicated to making Washington Heights an incredible place. I’ve learned about the importance of flexibility while working in the non-profit world, and the value of putting yourself in another person’s shoes.
This summer at the Washington Heights Corner Project (WHCP), I’ve assisted our RN and outreach team as we launch our mobile outreach unit. We’ve converted our van, Betsy, into a miniature testing center where we can conduct free HIV and Hepatitis C screening in the community. Through shadowing our nurse, Christine, I’ve become certified to give these tests myself. Mobile outreach has been an exciting way to see the various neighborhoods within Washington Heights and the South Bronx, and has given me the opportunity to work with many people who are often slighted by the healthcare system. WHCP also has a robust safer sex education team that hands out condoms and sex education literature during outreach programs. It’s been fun standing on corners shouting out “CONDONES GRATIS,” and helping open up the conversation on safer sex. Outreach events have been a fun way to get out of the office and bring our services directly into the community, while increasing awareness about WHCP.
Before this summer, I was unaware of what the term “Harm Reduction” entailed, but I have since learned how harm reduction means applying a human rights approach to working with drug users. Harm reduction agencies meet drug users “where they’re at,” and develop relationships with drug users to learn about their needs and provide them with resources necessary to live a long, healthy life. WHCP also has a large homeless population that requires a specific set of case management resources, so it has been interesting to see how homelessness and drug use intersect. Through my internship I’ve revised my outlook on drug use and abuse, and have become aware of the acute medical needs that drug users have but are often ignored. In clinical care and public health intravenous drug use is rarely discussed, but I hope that as a professional I can bring more awareness to the necessity of bringing unbiased care to drug users.
Through programming at Dígame and my placement at WHCP, I’ve learned about the importance of community health initiatives. WHCP has been a great compliment to Dígame, serving as an example of a non-profit that works to provide a variety of health services to the community. During our Friday programming with Dígame, I’ve had the opportunity to visit FQHCs and learn about approaches to minority health with Latin American and Asian-American populations. WHCP brings many of these principles to life, and creates close-knit relationships within the Washington Heights community to bring care to at-risk individuals. The work environment within WHCP is welcoming as well, and I’ve enjoyed being in charge of my own projects while contributing to a small but passionate team.