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Late last year, Baltimore Schweitzer Fellow Raquel Bracho was honored by the White House as a Champion for Change—and featured in the Washington Post—for her commitment to community service.

That commitment is evident in Bracho’s work at the Joy Wellness Center at Shepherd’s Clinic, which serves uninsured people living in Baltimore. As a Schweitzer Fellow, Bracho has spent the past year working to improve the health and well-being of Shepherd’s clinic patients through workshops on everything from job skills and resume writing to cooking with healthy, nutritious foods from the clinic’s garden.

“I hope that the lasting impact of my project will be that the individuals involved are better positioned to deal with the stress they face in their daily lives,” says the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law student.

Why did you decide to develop your particular Schweitzer project?

Being that volunteering at the Joy Wellness Center at Shepherd’s Clinic was the highlight of my busy week at the time, it almost felt like fate when I attended a Student Health Organization meeting and first heard of the Schweitzer Fellowship. Shepherd’s Clinic has provided health care for Baltimore residents without health insurance since 1991—but around 2009, they expanded to include the Joy Wellness Center as a more pre­ven­tive com­po­nent to address some of the chro­nic con­di­tions seen in their patients. Providing truly inte­gra­tive ser­vice under one roof, the Wellness Center offers move­ment edu­ca­tion, stress reduc­tion ser­vi­ces, hea­ling arts the­rapy, and nutri­tion edu­ca­tion.

When I learned more about the Schweitzer Fellowship, I realized that the goals of the Joy Wellness Center and the Shepherd’s Clinic could easily align with the desired project goals of a Schweitzer Fellowship. From there, I spoke with the Wellness Center administrator and Volunteer Coordinator to assess areas where I could be of service.

My goal was to improve the quality of life of the patients through “life improvement” seminars. Topics included resume and interview skills, creative writing, and stress management. I also held outreach sessions where I discussed healthy foods from the Clinic’s garden, as well as the wellness programs offered through the Joy Wellness Center.

What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?

I hope that the lasting impact of my project will be that the individuals involved are better positioned to deal with the stress they face in their daily lives. Through my preparations to teach stress management classes and facilitate wellness consults, I came to learn the effects that stress can have on one’s health.  By providing the patients at the Joy Wellness Center and the Shepherd’s Clinic with the skills to handle day-to-day stressors, such as employment issues, I hope to impact their overall well-being and health status.

What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?

I think the most pressing health-related issue of our time is access to medical care. I say this because individuals without insurance—or in areas lacking preventive care/primary care providers—will suffer health consequences that could have been prevented or easily addressed if they had access to medical care.

I believe this issue is beginning to be addressed by federal health reform and the movement to have all individuals insured. Following this, there needs to be a push to ensure that primary care and preventive care are available in all areas of the country— because having insurance will not help a patient if they are unable to access the care they need. In order to accomplish this task, there should be a push to incentivize primary care health care professionals to both enter the field and relocate to areas that are in need.

What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow so far?

The most surprising element of my Schweitzer experience so far has been the recognition the Schweitzer name carries within the community. I had not heard of Albert Schweitzer until I heard of this Fellowship. However, when I share that I am a Schweitzer Fellow, there is often an instant recognition of the name. Discovering this Fellowship, and that it aligned with my own personal practices and goals, shows that one should never walk through life with closed eyes—otherwise, you may miss an opportunity that is perfect for you.

 What does being a Schweitzer Fellow (and ultimately, Fellow for Life) mean to you?

I see the Schweitzer Fellowship as an avenue in which I can focus all my skills and continue to help my surrounding community. Being a Schweitzer Fellow is an embodiment of all the work I’ve tried to accomplish up to now, and the work I hope to accomplish in the future. Whether completing this project, or any other endeavor in the future, I hope to continue to impact the lives of others. Being a Fellow for Life will help ensure this occurs by keeping me connected with a network of individuals who share my common goal of helping others lead healthy, quality lives.

Raquel Bracho is a Schweitzer Fellow in Baltimore, MD. Click here to read more about The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF)’s Baltimore Schweitzer Fellows Program and the Fellows like Bracho it supports in creating and carrying out yearlong direct service projects that improve the health and well-being of vulnerable people and communities. To make a gift to the Baltimore Schweitzer Fellows Program—which is supported entirely by charitable grants and contributions—click here.

Each week, Beyond Boulders delivers a new installment of “Five Questions for a Fellow” – an interview series with Schweitzer Fellows across the country and in Gabon, Africa who are leading the movement to eliminate health disparities. For an archive of previous “Five Questions for a Fellow” interviews, click here.

 

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