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Schweitzer Fellows Erica Khan, Alesia Mitchell, Heidi Swan, Kristin Topping, and Manisha Verma planned a community symposium for Feb. 17.

Click here to view a flyer with full event details.

When Erica Khan, Alesia Mitchell, Heidi Swan, Kristin Topping, and Manisha Verma sat down to brainstorm about addressing the health needs of underserved Philadelphia residents, they quickly realized that making practical, culturally competent information accessible at the local level was a must.

So the group of Schweitzer Fellows—each of whom is already in the midst of her own yearlong direct service project—designed The Healthy Living in 2010 Community Symposium, aimed at providing information and services that empower community members to take charge of their own health.

Taking place on Wednesday, Feb. 17 from 5-7 p.m. at Philadelphia’s Honickman Learning Center, The Healthy Living in 2010 Community Symposium will offer free health materials focusing on prevention and management strategies for illnesses including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and HIV—along with free health screenings, participatory workshops on exercise and healthy snacking, and a panel discussion with Dr James Plumb, MD, MPH (Thomas Jefferson University, Dept. of Family & Community Medicine), Cyndi Dinger, RD, LDN (Director of Nutrition and Client Services, Manna), and Teresa Lamore (Assistant Program Director, Public Health Management Corporation).

“Often times, people do not know where to begin to look for health education materials, and feel overwhelmed with having to learn all there is to know about a particular disease,” says Schweitzer Fellow Alesia Mitchell, whose individual Schweitzer project encourages families to make healthier choices about diet and exercise. “Adding to the anxiety is this pressure for Americans to live healthier, active lifestyles.”

Mitchell, an MPH candidate at Temple University, worked with Khan, Swan, Topping, and Verma to design a symposium that would effectively address that anxiety. They identified the Philadelphia region’s top chronic illnesses, and focused on developing symposium programming that would deliver practical, targeted information with relevance to the realities of attendees’ daily lives.

“One cannot speak about maladies such as diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease without providing preventive strategies, and emphasizing the importance and availability of health and social services,” says Mitchell.

By blending a health fair and panel discussion, Mitchell and co. believe they’ve created an ideal setting to do just that: “The community can receive health information, while having public health and medical professionals available to speak to the heart of some of today’s hardest hitting diseases,” Mitchell says.

“Individuals who attend the symposium may not be diagnosed with any particular conditions—but they may very well know a loved one living with diabetes, cancer, or any number of health problems,” she adds. “If there is one overarching message that we want people to emerge with, it is that everyone must be active participants in their health care and take the necessary steps to prevent and manage disease.”

Mitchell is grateful that she shares her belief in that message with a group of like-minded Schweitzer Fellows in Philadelphia — individuals committed to addressing health disparities through direct service.

“I enjoy interacting with people who have a desire to learn and are willing to be on the frontline impacting the health of individuals and families,” Mitchell says. “To come across a program that is dedicated to providing graduate students with opportunities to make an impact on the unmet health needs of communities is exactly what I’d hoped for to culminate my public health graduate experience. What better group of individuals to be associated with than The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship Program?”

To support the Greater Philadelphia Schweitzer Fellows Program, click here.