Every Tuesday, Beyond Boulders runs a five-question interview with either a first-year Schweitzer Fellow or a Schweitzer Fellow for Life (ie, a Fellow whose initial year with ASF has been completed, but whose commitment to lifelong service continues).
In our new installment, we talk with 2008-09 Greater Philadelphia Schweitzer Fellow Megan Riley. While a Fellow (and a student at Thomas Jefferson University’s Jefferson College of Health Professions), Megan launched a diabetes intervention program called “Taking Charge of Your Sugar” at Ridge Shelter, a local shelter for homeless men.
Her project consisted of three 10-week programs involving exercise, education, and nutrition. Additionally, many clients at the shelter rely on food that the shelter provides to them, so Riley worked with a nutritionist to provide a menu logo indicating foods that are diabetic friendly.
Why did you develop your particular project?
I developed my project specifically for Ridge Shelter (which is a shelter for men). I was currently active in an organization at school that spoke to a community of underprivileged women. These women were participating in a model of diabetes fitness and education as a part of a research study here at Thomas Jefferson University. I took this model into the shelter, a shelter in which Thomas Jefferson students already had a presence, and adapted it to my clientele, which were mostly African American males who are at the highest risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
What was the lasting impact of your project on the community it served?
As of right now, my project has been turned over to a new Schweitzer Fellow [2009-10 Fellow Kristen Topping, also a student at Jefferson College of Health Professions], who is planning to modify my project and to implement more of a charting process in terms of success in controlling blood glucose levels and to increase diabetes awareness; what the disease is and how it can affect activities in daily living. I am hoping one day that the project’s success will turn into a model for other shelters to use and to implement as a service to their clients.
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 awareness of diabetes is there — juvenile type 2 diabetes is on an increase in our society and millions of dollars are being spent each year to control the health care cost of managing this chronic disease. I feel that the more information that is out there about the disease, the more we can effectively reach targeted populations.
And this goes hand in hand with nutrition and nutritional facts. Subway® has been a big influence on posting nutritional facts for all their menu items and are trying to make people more aware of their menu choices. Other fast food branches are slowly following their trend. I think that this is a right step in the direction for a healthier America. However, we need to take many more steps!
What was the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow?
Myself! I never thought that the project I selected would have grown in success from week to week, let alone be continued for another whole year. I think that the whole experience in general — from going out in the community to ask for support, and getting the support from faculty and mentors — has taught me that networking (and sometimes the motivation to pick up the phone to call for a favor) is a key to the success of a project.
I also think that the clients who gave their input made it valuable to me –they believed in the program to work, and so it did!
What does Albert Schweitzer’s legacy mean to you, and how have you carried it with you since your initial year as a Fellow drew to a close?
Well, I have only been out for 4 months, but I think that being able to make such an impact in a community that was receptive to the program has built me up not only in confidence, but also makes me feel like I gave something to someone that needed it at that particular time.
I think that there are high expectations set for any Schweitzer Fellow, and that helped me want to set high expectations for myself and my project. As Albert Schweitzer wrote, “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”
ASF’s Greater Philadelphia Area program was founded in 2006. Under the leadership of David B. Nash, MD, MBA and colleagues at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, the Greater Philadelphia Schweitzer Fellows Program serves populations in Delaware, Southeastern Pennsylvania, and Southern New Jersey. This year, 14 new Fellows from the area’s top colleges and universities have been selected to join the program’s ranks, each partnering with a local agency and devoting more than 200 hours of service—click here for details on the new Fellows’ projects.