"Here to Help": From Schweitzer Fellow Project to Student Interest Group

February 26, 2018 by Michelle Bookless

Two years after it's creation, Robinson's dream of having "Here to Help" become a self-sustaining entity has come true. Last Spring, Robinson transitioned the leadership of the "Here to Help Clinic" to Schweitzer Fellows and second-year medical students Erin Hunt '20 and Rachael Munoz '20. Shortly thereafter, the "Here to Help" began to host a monthly clinic on the third Saturday of every month.

"Here to Help" committee members and Class of '21 Larner College of Medicine students Shae Rowlandson, Nam Trinh, Max Knapp, Nina Dawson, Raghav Goyal, Lauren Struck, and Nick Haslett.

In 2016, University of Vermont (UVM) Larner College of Medicine student Jasmine Robinson submitted a proposal for a year-long service project for a "Here to Help" clinic. Robinson's aim was to assist Burlington, Vt.-area homeless and under-served populations - circumstances near and dear to her heart. For much of her childhood and young adult life, Robinson was homeless.

On July 1, 2016, the first "Here to Help" clinic was held at the First United Methodist Church (FUMC) in Burlington and offered access to services such as health screenings and haircuts, as well as basic necessities such as toiletries, hot showers, and a warm meal. Clinic patrons also had access to staff from Burlington’s Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO), including Assistant Director for Community, Housing, & Opportunity Programs Marcy Esbjerg and Chittenden County Homeless Alliance Committee member Stephen Marshall (both also served as Robinson's "Here to Help" advisors). Several more clinics were held over the course of the next year.

Nearly a year ago, Robinson transitioned the leadership of the project to 2017-18 Schweitzer Fellows and medical students Erin Hunt '20 and Rachael Munoz '20. Shortly thereafter, "Here to Help" began to host a monthly clinic at FUMC on the third Saturday of every month from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Now, as Hunt and Munoz ready for their Clerkship year, Robinson's dream of having "Here to Help" become a self-sustaining entity has come true. First-year students Shae Rowlandson, Raghav Goyal, Nina Dawson, Lauren Struck, Nam Trinh, Ellen Seyller, Jack Chen, Michael Weber, and Nick Haslett have taken the reins and brought the clinic one step further - they've made it an official UVM Larner College of Medicine Student Interest Group (SIG). For Rowlandson, the transformation of “Here to Help” from Schweizer Fellow project to SIG is especially exciting, in part, because he’s been a volunteer with “Here to Help” since before he became a UVM medical student.

A 2014 UVM graduate, Rowlandson’s passion for supporting communities in need grew from his experiences as a master’s of health science student at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School for Public Health in Baltimore, Md. Through the biochemistry and molecular biology program, he was introduced to John S. Dalton II, M.D., his mentor at the Baltimore Rescue Mission's free clinic. While volunteering as a medical assistant at the clinic, he learned about the daily predicament of homeless patients of the Mission – deciding whether to eat or get their medication. Additionally, this population lacked social support and access to medical education or care. To expand his outreach, Rowlandson also served as a patient advocate at Health Leads in John Hopkins' Bayview Hospital to connect under-served, low-income patients to services, and conducted a practicum through his master's degree's Health and Homelessness course to improve the education, health, and well-being of homeless individuals in Baltimore. 

Back in Burlington after completing his degree, Rowlandson was determined to continue the work he’d been a part of in Baltimore. In November 2016, he was introduced to Robinson, Esbjerg, Marshall, and the rest of the “Here to Help” clinic team and quickly became a co-leader. The work not only fulfilled his desire to support the homeless community, but also fueled his determination to attend the Larner College of Medicine. As he worked with Robinson, and eventually Hunt and Munoz, too, his high opinion of UVM was reinforced.

With the continued help of Esbjerg, Marshall, and community member and former “Here to Help” patron Leslie Green, Rowlandson and the other SIG members are working to expand the efforts of "Here to Help" and grow the services offered to the Burlington homeless community.

"Since our new team started in Fall 2017...we have been actively trying to transform the way the clinic runs and how we view the purpose of the clinic," said Rowlandson and his SIG co-leaders. "We now believe that the heart of the Here to Help clinic is the ability to establish meaningful and lasting connections between medical students, as well as other health professionals and students, with members of the homeless and low-income populations in Burlington and the Champlain Valley."

The group aims “to foster trust in a warm, welcoming, and safe space for the patrons to be themselves and freely voice whatever they wish to share.”

In the upcoming year, Rowlandson and the team plan to hold monthly clinics, as well as roll out a series of initiatives to expand support to community members. The details of those activities include:
  • "Here to Help" monthly clinics at the First United Methodist Church on the third Saturday of every month from 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. (unless the scheduled time changes to every 2nd Saturday of the month)
  • A Facebook page to further improve communication and trust between the organization/volunteers and the community as well as to provide updates about upcoming events. Visit the page here.
  • "Here to Help" continues to invite additional social services organizations to support and attend their events - in particular, those with a focus on reproductive health, housing, transportation, employment, and mental health/well being.
  • Plans to host bike repair, exercise, nutrition, and wellness sessions to promote and provide well-being, education, and transportation.
  • Outreach to invite more medical students and students in healthcare-related fields, healthcare professionals, service organizations, and community members to volunteer and collaborate with the group.
Learn more about the beginning of "Here to Help" here, read a June 2016 UVM Larner College of Medicine Blog post by Robinson, and follow the UVM Larner College of Medicine on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates on the SIG's events and continued success.

* In addition to the organizations referenced above, “Here to Help” is also thankful for assistance from the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance, CEDO, the First United Methodist Church, the Joint Urban Ministry Project (JUMP), UVM Medical Center’s Community Health Improvement Department, Howard Center, CHCB/Safe Harbor, and VT Economic Services Division.

** If you’d like to volunteer at an upcoming “Here to Help” clinic, please contact Rowlandson at srowland@med.uvm.edu.