MPS Youth are Healthy and Empowered Thanks to College Health Corps VISTA
Aria Nelson, a College Health Corps VISTA member, is serving at Minneapolis Health Department’s School-Based Clinics which “provides confidential & non-judgmental health care for no cost” to Minneapolis Public School students during school hours. Aria is serving to strengthen the organization’s ability to engage with the students—and she certainly has done just that!
Aria has been vital to the success of the Teen Health Empowerment Council (THE Council). THE Council is a peer-led group of teens who are promoting health through peer education and community outreach, and they also serve as advisers for the school-based clinics. The teens meet two times a month to speak about different health topics of their choosing, including healthy relationships, body image, nutrition, mental health, sexual and reproductive health, and other relevant subjects. Council members are empowered to become peer educators. They decide how to take on this role, such as by making clinic referrals or having meaningful conversations with their peers. The teens also engage in community outreach about the clinics by tabling at schools over lunch hour, as well as speaking on the radio and presenting to city hall about the Minneapolis Health Department’s School-Based Clinics. Through these opportunities, the students are experiencing valuable personal and academic growth.
Aria had phenomenal success recruiting and securing THE Council members for the 2014-15 school year. Aria’s efforts making connections with students and piloting new outreach methods boosted the number of THE Council members to 27 members, which is up from 5 members the previous year. The larger cohort of THE Council members is due to Aria’s ability to build relationships with students and encourage them to apply to be part of the group. In total, 75 students applied and 50 students were interviewed.
Aria reflects on the connections she made with students in THE Council:
The students that I connected with are now aware of the group (THE Council), and they are also more aware of the clinics and what we have to offer. I hope that making these connections will create a really strong student group that will be able to make a large impact. I hope that the interest and impact of THE Council will carry on year after year. We want to continue to have a strong group that has a good reputation, and that students will continue to hear about and want to be a part of!
By engaging students and empowering them to become peer leaders around issues of health, as well as to be ambassadors for the clinic, Aria is facilitating sustainability for THE Council as well as the School-Based Clinics more broadly. One way Aria is ensuring sustainability is by encouraging students to serve with THE Council for more than one year. The teens in these roles will be able to share their knowledge with incoming council members, take more ownership over certain aspects of THE Council, and spur new projects to expand the group’s impact. Additionally, because she has facilitated these positive and lasting connections, the students have a trusting view of the clinic and clinic staff.
Through her service, Aria has increased student awareness of the Minneapolis School-Based Clinics and the vital services the clinics offer. She has determined effective ways for engaging with teens to equip them with tools to be peer leaders and to become empowered to make healthy decisions. Aria has, without question, made a lasting impact for the clinic and for the students she has served.