My interest in working to overcome inequality and advance a cause greater than myself began in the early years of my child hood when I witnessed injustices on a regular basis. My father provided dental services to marginalized individuals, such as those experiencing homelessness, children with cerebral palsy, special needs adults, individuals with HIV/AIDS, and the elderly. My family attended Catholic services at both the upper-middle class and mostly white cathedral in my neighborhood and at a basement church in a poor African-American community, which was only a few miles from my own. The stark differences in the access to education, housing, employment, and health care between the two communities instilled in me gratitude for the privilege I had and a desire to help others overcome the inequalities that kept them in poverty. My childhood experiences inspired me to pursue a career in social work. During my social work education I learned about Jane Addams' Hull House. The work Jane Addams did to address the needs of the immigrants and factory workers during the Industrial Revolution intrigued me. The efforts of Hull House and other social welfare houses of the time addressed both immediate needs of the individuals and worked to change the dynamic of the factories and tenements to provide for more sanitary living conditions. She did this while also providing dignity to individuals through providing needed services. This vision of providing dignity to individuals while also impacting a larger social change is what drew me to social work.
The skills that I learned while working in Baltimore communities were very useful when I moved to Knoxville, Tennessee. When I arrived in Knoxville, I had an interest in doing something in my neighborhood to bridge the gap between racial and economic differences within the community. After assessing community needs and interests, I organized a group of resident volunteers to create a community garden on a vacant lot. The purpose of the garden, as defined by the neighborhood, was more expansive than my original vision: “The purpose of the Parkridge Community Garden is to promote the Parkridge neighborhood and to provide recreation and education by exploring organic gardening and local food production while conveying a sense of community with an open mind and a spirit of acceptance, respect, and inclusion.”
In addition to broadening the breadth of my social commitment, my experience working in the community garden has taught me much about managing volunteers and working with a diverse group of individuals. I found that having an agreed upon common vision was an effective way to keep the group focused on the goals we had set, while also addressing conflicts with individuals in a way that maintained group cohesion. Leading a volunteer based organization has given me the opportunity to develop a management style that is unique from the skills I honed managing employees and board members.
My childhood experiences, social work education, community organizing, and career have inspired me to use my current skills to impact a broader population by working in the public health field. My unique skills and experiences have prepared me for taking on the current challenges of health inequalities emerging globally. I feel that I will be able to build off of my existing skills by bringing my social work experiences to the public health program, providing a unique and first hand perspective of the impact of health disparities.
My most recent project was at Health and Human Services. Where I used the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) to identify characteristics of individuals who did not seek or receive services for behavioral health needs. Created a concept model that included individual’s perception of health problem, modifying factors, likelihood of taking action, and health outcomes. Enabled demographic targeting of messaging, with the statistical analysis used as a low-cost way to tailor messages for the target population in promoting the Affordable Care Act.