WFU gets Public Health AmeriCorps grant

Wake Forest students will be able to get hands-on experience at six community medical centers


Courtesy of AmeriCorps

Fifteen students will be accepted to the program.

Kristen Heilenman, Staff Writer

Recently, AmeriCorps and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented a grant worth more than $214,000 to Wake Forest in an effort to improve public health in the Winston-Salem community.

As a result of the grant, Wake Forest will introduce an inaugural group of students as participants in Public Health AmeriCorps, which seeks to create a diverse workforce in the field of medicine.

  “It’s a partnership between the CDC and AmeriCorps,” Shelley Sizemore, director of community partnerships at Wake Forest, said. “And the idea is to provide rapid, immediate labor for public health goals in communities and at the same time help develop and prepare the next generation of public health leaders for that work.”

While there is a preexisting AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) project at Wake Forest, members currently work full time with nonprofits in the community, completing 900 hours of service, and as a result, full-time students are not able to participate. The new grant allows these students — specifically undergraduates interested in public health — to do part-time work and be compensated hourly. 

“The grant largely goes to support the cost of running the program, the biggest chunk of which is the pay for the participants,” Sizemore said. “Another piece of this is that they have to wear a uniform, so they have to wear stuff that says Public Health AmeriCorps, so that’s another expense. And then we’ll be paying folks to come in and provide some of these workshops and training.”

Students will be working at one of six clinics: the Forsyth County Health Department, Winston-Salem State University’s Mobile Behavioral Health Unit, Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist’s Uninsured Clinic, the Twin City Harm Reduction Collective, the Shalom Project Medical Clinic and the Community Care Center.

“First and foremost, we’re excited to support six different mobile health sites in Winston-Salem who are doing incredible work,” Marianne Magjuka, executive director of the Office of Civic and Community Engagement, said. “We saw this as a way to support them and extend what they’re already doing. I think the other opportunity for us is to engage a group of Wake Forest students who are interested in public health and can provide some additional access to public health leaders, educational sessions and skill building opportunities.” 

When applying for the grant, Madjuka and Sizemore contacted organizations in the community to determine their exact needs.

“We approached community health clinic sites in Winston-Salem, and we connected with each of the community partners to listen to what needs they had and what AmeriCorps members would do at their sites,” Madjuka said. “And so after we had those conversations, we thought about what we would like to see in terms of the academic preparation and the way students could be prepared to have a meaningful service experience.”

A large majority of the participants’ day-to-day work will be centered around patient navigation — helping them receive necessary services, spreading information and educating the general public. Students will also both organize and prepare the clinics for volunteers. Along with these tasks, members of the Public Health AmeriCorps program will be required to participate in public health talks.

“[They will be] helping patients navigate the services that they need,” Sizemore said. “If they are bilingual they’ll be doing some translation. They’ll be doing some more basic public health education work, particularly around the health department, behavioral health unit [and] reduction collective. And then they’ll be actually staffing those clinics and doing all kinds of things that volunteers might do like getting the space ready for volunteers and following up with volunteers that have signed up.”

In terms of the application, Magjuka and Sizemore plan to accept 15 students. Applications are due by the end of final examinations — May 8 — and interviews will be conducted over the summer. 

“We’re looking for students who are passionate about public health,” Magjuka said. “And who are curious and interested in learning more in public health settings, who are community focused and who are interested in serving a need in Winston-Salem.”