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"When I began my nursing education, I hoped that I would eventually find the juncture of social justice work and nursing," Seamon says. "The Fellowship has begun to show me just how the two fields can mix, and it excites me to know that the experience will continue beyond this year as a Fellow for Life."

As a Schweitzer Fellow and a student at the MGH Institute of Health Professions School of Nursing, Katie Seamon is addressing the challenges of adolescent pregnancy and parenthood in Chelsea, Massachusetts by developing a class on infant health and well being for young mothers at Roca. (She is incorporating the class into Roca and Americorps’ Youth STAR program, which trains young people to become mentors, educators and outreach workers in the community.)

In today’s interview, Seamon shares the story of her Schweitzer project—which she hopes will serve the dual purpose of educating the young mothers of Youth STAR and also enhancing their role as community resources.

Why did you decide to develop your particular project?

Prior to studying nursing, I majored in political science and was interested in social justice. I studied social movements and worked to promote civic engagement in my college community. Through that experience, I came to focus on public health and the inequity of our health care system. I had a few tremendously influential personal experiences with nurses and decided to pursue a master’s degree in nursing. I have since remained dedicated to working in the community—only now I will do so as a practitioner, having a direct impact on peoples’ lives.

When I moved to Boston for nursing school, I endeavored to find opportunities to mix my clinical education with community service. I began my project when my clinical preceptor introduced me to the Youth STAR program at ROCA in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Youth STAR was looking for an instructor for a class on Infant Wellbeing, to be taught to a group of 10 adolescent mothers. The project intrigued me immediately because it offered me the opportunity to mix my clinical practice with community engagement. Working with young mothers to foster healthy relationships with their young children was an ideal fit for me. As I began the class, I applied for a Schweitzer Fellowship to help propel the class through the next year.

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

My program has a few very important strengths that position it to have a ripple effect on the community. Youth STAR is an Americorps program, and the young mothers I work are working to fulfill a substantial community service commitment. Upon completion of my class, they will go out in the community to teach other young people about infant health and wellbeing.

Already, some of the young women I worked with at the beginning of the project are leading a community education class. This is extremely exciting and rewarding for me because the mechanisms for sustainability are already in motion. One of the primary goals of the project is to foster the confidence of these young mothers. My larger hope is that some of the basic knowledge and skills that are covered in the Infant Wellbeing Class will eventually permeate the community and lead to improvement in overall health outcomes for the young people of Chelsea.

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

I believe the most pressing health-related issue of our time has to do with health inequity. This includes disparate abilities to access health care, health education, and healthy foods. Many of the disease epidemics we are experiencing in this country—diabetes, heart disease, obesity, etc.—are intricately related to access to care, access to health education and access to balanced nutrition.

As far as addressing access to health care, I am a firm believed in single-payer universal health care. All people should have access to primary care and preventive services. The challenge of reforming health care systems in the United States must be met on a community level. Changing the system from the top down is immensely challenging, as we have seen with Obama’s efforts at health care reform. We see that small steps can be made, but enormous gaps remain when legislation is removed from the local level. National and state legislative changes need grassroots, community-based problem solving to support their goals. It is the only way we can figure out how to rearrange the system so everyone benefits.

Although I am admittedly naïve and extremely optimistic, I believe that if health services are designed around the needs of a community—educational and nutritional needs,  especially—we will see an evening out of health disparities and an overall improvement in the health of the American people.

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

Perhaps the most surprising element of my experience has been just how quickly I have been received into the community at ROCA. Despite cultural and language differences, I have felt extremely welcomed and appreciated by all the staff at ROCA and the members of Youth STAR. I am particularly self-conscious about entering into a community where I am not a member, especially as an educator. The possibility for miscommunication and accidental insensitivity are great. Yet the experience so far has been very smooth. I am very grateful that ROCA and the Youth STAR members have welcomed me into their community because it has allowed us to work together and make the most of the project thus far.

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

Being a Schweitzer Fellow feels like a direction-setter for my career as a Nurse Practitioner. When I began my nursing education, I hoped that I would eventually find the juncture of social justice work and nursing. The Fellowship has begun to show me just how the two fields can mix, and it excites me to know that the experience will continue beyond this year as a Fellow for Life.

Being a part of the Boston Schweitzer Fellows group has been an incredibly humbling and inspiring experience. Every Fellow has incredible motivation and dedication to similar causes that inspire me. I have been afforded the opportunity to meet community leaders during our monthly meetings, which has given me a blueprint for where I may be able to go. I think that the Fellowship will be a defining element of my educational experience and my career.

Katie Seamon is a Schweitzer Fellow in Boston, MA. Click here to read more about The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF)’s Boston Schweitzer Fellows Program and the Fellows like Seamon 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 in honor of Seamon, 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.