Early on during their first year as MPH students, Angela Han and Chelsea Wynn built great partnerships with Coach Dave Crenshaw and other community organizers in our local Washington Heights neighborhood. ODCI sat down with them individually to learn more about their work with the Dreamers, and their program "Heights Teach In - Uptown Unites for Justice."
Angela Han, 2nd year MPH student in Health Policy Management
What experiences in your life have led you to this work?
I studied Neuroscience with the intention to pursue medical school. After undergrad, I took some time off to work and to evaluate if I really wanted to be a doctor. During that process, I realized that I didn’t want to treat just individuals but to improve health on a structural level. That led me to pursue an MPH.
Could you share with us the work you’ve done with Coach Dave?
I started volunteering with Coach Dave in the fall semester of 2016. During that time I would help out during the after school gym sessions. During the spring semester 2017 I helped with tutoring the students. I initially was nervous about tutoring other children, but it was more homework help instead which is less daunting.
What’s it like to work with Coach Dave and the children?
I enjoy working with the children. They keep me coming back. The way the kids will run up and hug to greet volunteers is reason enough for me to return. However, also hearing how our volunteering has helped them do better on their homework assignment or test from the kids themselves reassures me that we are being a resource to the Dreamers.
Another example: there was once a young boy who was roughhousing with another kid. Coach Dave gave him and the boy a timeout for roughhousing. The child felt left out and was upset; I saw him crying and stomping around. I asked him if he wanted a hug in which he said yes. After his timeout was over, the boy came back to me and thanked me. He said that he felt much better and that the hug was all he needed.
Doing good work is hard and sometimes unfulfilling. But working with Coach Dave and the children has been very fulfilling.
How can other Mailman students get involved?
I previously talked to the parents of the children; they are super appreciative of the Mailman students coming by to help. However, many of them are nervous about what is going to happen once my cohort graduates and leaves. They hope that Coach Dave gets more graduate students. Graduate students who would like to get involved can reach out to Coach Dave for opportunities.
Chelsea Wynn, 2nd year MPH student in Sociomedical Sciences
What led you and your peers to coordinate and implement the Teach-In?
I am part of the group Health equity for Black Lives and it started with the community engagement group; we are trying to get more civic minded with our community within the student experience, I think we are very siloed on this campus. We need to be able to engage more and give back. We sit in our classes and learn about the perils of the health effects of gentrification and displacement but then we are purposely walking on the other side of Broadway...what are we really doing?
And so after we heard Coach Dave’s presentation at the Community Walk last year, Angela was the first to initiate and solidify a bond with Coach Dave. It was Jenna and Vanessa's brain child to have the teach-in for the Washington Heights community.
The organizational turnout and resources for the Teach-In was amazing. The community had an opportunity to attend “know your rights” sessions, overdose prevention training, and more. Next year, we hope to go into the community to do more outreach and see more community members attend the Teach-In.
What roles did everyone play?
Everybody had a role. Angela Han partnered with Coach Dave the most since she volunteered at PS 128 often. Jenna Schmitz got us in touch with other organizations. Vanessa Ferrel and Misty Downey made sure that we met our concrete goals. Jenna also organized the schedule and made sure everything was running smoothly on the day of the event. She was at the heart of it all. Vanessa did a lot of outreach work. She got our name into newspapers and designed flyers, the program, etc. and Misty did a lot of organizational work, calling local groups, canvassing, organizing our meetings to regroup on what was needed/what was not.
Rebecca Grant, the internal community coordinator of Greater Community Reach, was phenomenal. She was able to organize the budget and all the other organizational items. We had a bake sale and it was very successful. She was able to help set up an account on YouCaring, the online crowdfunding website. But most of all, she kept us on track with the physical goals and resources. Everyone did a phenomenal job!
What has it meant to you personally?
Organizing the Teach-In taught me a lot about my leadership style, where I needed to grow and where I need to improve. I’m not necessarily great at independent organizational leadership but I do believe my strength is to do what needs to be done.
I feel that students think we need to do these grand gestures to make a difference. Sometimes it’s these simple conversations with someone sitting next to you or provide resources to the community. It was very humbling. I feel incredibly blessed that I’m going to an Ivy League university getting this great education. At the end of the day, even though there’s a problematic atmosphere in the larger US, I will probably be fine but that’s not the case for everybody. It’s about changing the way I think of relationships with people who are our neighbors. The Teach-In has taught me a lot about community and that the focus is on the community. I have a lot to learn on how to be a responsible neighbor.