Spring’19, Mariam Dogar ’20, CHNA 17

This past fall, I came back to MIT after a long and emotional summer. I had recently lost someone in my family and the first few weeks of school after that were a struggle. The classes I had been excited to take now just felt like busy work, and I felt like nothing I was doing at MIT was really truly meaningful in the grand scheme of life. Now, while I know this is not true, this feeling of not having an actual impact with my time prompted me to consider doing something to give back to the community. The next time Chiara from the PKG Center sent out listings for volunteer work and work studies, I looked at all the options.

At first, I was worried; I barely had free time. Sometimes, it seemed like I was running on negative time. However, I knew I needed to make this work. I sat down and seriously considered how I could move things around to come up with a few hours every week that I could commit to someone else. The next thing I looked for when doing my search was the chance to learn more about public health issues. As someone hoping for a future career in medicine, I wanted to learn about challenges that a community can have when it comes to accessing healthcare and see what people were doing to try to fix those problems.

Soon, I found the Community Health Network Area (CHNA 17) listing. In 1992, under the direction of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Office of Healthy Communities, the 27 CHNAs were created, dividing up MA into coalitions made up of representatives from public, non-profit and private sectors. CHNA 17 serves Arlington, Belmont, Cambridge, Somerville, Waltham, and Watertown. It offers trainings and community forums that are free and open to the public, gathers resources to share to organizations and community members, and funds innovative projects throughout their region. The CHNA also offers grants to organizations to review policies and participate in learning communities on bullying (after school programs) and sexual harassment, both with a racial equity lens.  Instantly, I resonated with their mission, goals, and approach, so I applied.

About a week later, I became their Program Associate. It has been my job to assist with taking learning community notes and compiling findings as well as my perspectives in reports. I’ve also helped with various outreach and education efforts such as overseeing the Spotlight feature of the website (which highlights the racial equity work of community partners), website content (including posting videos), compiling and creating content for our newsletter, and creating a social media presence on Twitter and Facebook. The CHNA 17 is limited in its reach due to capacity, so this assistance with outreach is going towards making the organization more sustainable. The trainings, the conversation, the resources, and the people have already taught me and the community partners I’ve interacted with so far so much about how to make their organizations more cognizant of racial equity, hate/bias, and mental health. I have enjoyed helping them with that and want to continue to help them grow their outreach so more people can be affected by what they have to offer.

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