Most people who don’t live or work with high schoolers probably don’t go out of their way to spend much time around them, but by doing that, we might be missing out on some of our community’s most productive and thoughtful residents.
Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center’s (RCCHC) Hertford County Wellness Center (HCSWC) Director, Catherine Parker, is adamant that youth can be active participants in their community to guide positive change. “We want to create a community where young people have a voice and are invited to the table. Teenagers don’t normally have a platform to create community change, but when adults step back, they do amazing things.” says Parker.
The catalyst for much of the current youth led work began with the Youth Wellness Academy (YWA), a partnership between the Hertford County Student Wellness Center, the Hertford Health Maintenance Alliance and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation. It was created with the intent to let students pursue leadership opportunities, especially those who may not have otherwise had the chance to do so.
One such opportunity was the Photovoice Project, where YWA members were asked to examine community conditions and discuss how they are affected through photography. Photos taken by the students ranged from spoiled food, to empty storefronts, to decaying sidewalks, but also images of hope and opportunity. As a response to the Photovoice, youth services were identified as a priority among community partners for three years, and the need for safe and accessible places to exercise helped create the P.A.W. Path Walking Trail – a trail open to the public connecting Hertford County High, Bearfield Primary School, Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center, ECU School of Dental Medicine’s Service Learning Site, and town sidewalks. Youth Wellness Academy students also traveled to Raleigh to advocate for P.E. in schools, and organized “Destress for the Test”, an afternoon of relaxing activities to help students at Hertford County High School relieve stress before their final exams.
Students have also led an active role in the Farm to School to Healthcare program, a community partnership created to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables and safe spaces to be active in Hertford County. High school aged “Garden Stewards” dedicate large amounts of their time and energy over the summer and school year to maintain school gardens located at Hertford County High, Hertford County Early College, C.S. Brown H.S. STEM, Bearfield Primary, and Riverview Elementary, as well as Ahoskie Community Gardens where produce is grown to be sold at youth led farmers markets. At the markets, students take care of everything from manning the cash register, to giving out samples of healthy dishes they have prepared, to managing promotional social media accounts. Volunteers from the program also assist with its annual “Farm to Table Dinner”, whose guest speakers last year included NC first Lady Kristin Cooper and former NFL player Jason Brown, now the owner of First Fruits Farm.
The Hertford County Student Wellness Center, in partnership with Hertford County Cooperative Extension were also lucky enough to have three interns this year, Dacia Peele, Lindsey Stallings and Zach Wise. Among their accomplishments includes leading the charge on the “StoryBook Trail” where walkers can read pages of a storybook as they follow along the P.A.W. Path., along with implementing a garden art project at Bearfield Primary School. Parker states that she’s grateful not only for their hard work, but also their professionalism, and the valuable advice and input they have offered about programs the in the county.
“As adults, we forget what it’s like to be young and we tend to have a nasty habit of thinking ‘kids these days are so [negative opinion]’ without really involving them in the conversation,” says Parker, “I challenge everyone to engage with our youth. They have amazing ideas –and the option to leave. But we want them to know Hertford County is their home, and that they can make home what they want it to be. There must be a seat at our table for young people or they will find another table.”
Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center Practice Administrator Weyling White was among the graduates of the 26th Leadership North Carolina class. Fifty-six civic and community leaders from across the state celebrated their completion earlier this month of this prestigious program in the Old House Chamber of the North Carolina State Capitol.
Each year, through a rigorous selection process, LNC chooses a class of established and emerging leaders from across the state to participate in its acclaimed program. Leadership North Carolina’s Class XXVI comprises top leaders from the government, business, nonprofit, and education sectors.
“I’m forever grateful for my LNC experience and for the opportunity to connect with other great leaders across our wonderful state. LNC has provided me with the tools necessary to face the challenges seen in my community as well as throughout the state of NC. I would like to thank Nucor Steel for the financial support, and my employer, Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center, for their commitment and support during my time in this program. Both of these organizations made it possible for me to be a member of Class XXVI,” said White.
Leadership North Carolina’s mission is to inform, develop, and engage committed leaders by broadening their understanding of and involvement in issues and opportunities facing North Carolina. The Leadership North Carolina Program cultivates a network of individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences who share a deep commitment to their state. There are more than 1200 graduates of the program whose continued ties to LNC and to one another provide them with rich opportunities for serving North Carolina.
Weyling White, Practice Administrator for Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center (RCCHC), has been selected by the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Institute of Medicine to the prestigious honor of membership. White joins over 150 leaders in health, medicine, and policy across North Carolina to receive this honor and partner with the North Carolina Institute of Medicine (NCIOM) to advance health policy for a healthier state.
"Joining the NCIOM is a huge honor and I am extremely grateful. I started my career with one goal in my mind and that was to give back to my community in a way that will save lives. We all have a part to play in our community and I have never looked at what I do as work, but as a responsibility to the people we serve," says White.
CEO of Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center and current NCIOM board member, Kim Schwartz, adds, "As a member of the NCIOM Board, I am well aware of what it takes to be nominated to membership of NCIOM - and Weyling White is recognized as an emerging leader in the safety net health care community across North Carolina. We are very proud of his accomplishments, along with his leadership at RCCHC."
"We are pleased to welcome new members to the NCIOM," said Dr. Adam Zolotor, president and CEO of the NCIOM. "We look forward to working with them to continue the mission of the Institute, seeking constructive solutions to statewide problems that impede the improvement of health and efficient and effective delivery of health care for all North Carolinians."
The North Carolina Institute of Medicine (NCIOM) is an independent, quasi-state agency that was chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1983 to provide balanced, nonpartisan information on issues of relevance to the health of North Carolina's population. The NCIOM convenes task forces of knowledgeable and interested individuals to study complex health issues facing the state in order to develop workable solutions to address these issues to improve health, health care access, and quality of health care in North Carolina.
ncIMPACT, a program produced by UNC-TV, will feature Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center employees and the many barriers to transportation in rural parts of the state during an upcoming segment airing next month. UNC-TV Public Media North Carolina is partnering with the UNC School of Government, with sponsorship by Civic Federal Credit Union, for this compelling new series.
Episode 13 of ncIMPACT will cover the barrier of rural transportation and how innovative programs in the Roanoke Chowan area are addressing these issues. Programs and services included in this episode are the HHMA TRIP pilot program and CPTA (Choanoke Public Transportation Authority).
HHMA TRIP (Transporting Residents with Innovative Practices) pilot program was designed to increase the "health, wellness, and general well-being" of patients by implementing a "patient-centered" transportation model. TRIP was developed for a target population of high-risk patients who face transportation barriers preventing them from adequately accessing medical care. This program serves identified patients that reside in Hertford and Bertie counties and ensures that each patient has an opportunity to access locations that are directly related to their medical conditions, recovery needs, and overall well-being.
"Every person should have the right to access quality healthcare and the resources they need to survive. My team and I developed this program to ensure that transportation will no longer be the source for people having to suffer because they simply cannot find a ride to places that are essential to their health, and we are planning to expand to serve more people", says Weyling White, TRIP Program Manager.
HHMA TRIP is funded by the Roanoke-Chowan Foundation and operated out of Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center.
The television news program is also looking at the services provided by Choanoke Public Transportation Authority. CPTA serves the citizens of Bertie, Halifax, Hertford and Northampton Counties. For over 40 years, CPTA has provided transportation needs for any person in the four county area who is in need of a ride, whether it be to local community colleges, shopping centers, medical offices, senior centers, day cares, human service agencies, etc.
“I would like to say a big “Thank You” to all our riders, partners, and communities for allowing CPTA to provide their transportation needs. We most certainly enjoy you giving us the opportunity, and we look forward in continuing to serve you. That’s what we’re here for! Just give us a call and “Hop A Ride”, says Pam Perry, Executive Director of Choanoke Public Transportation Authority.
The episode is scheduled to air Thursday, May 2 at 8pm on UNC-TV.
Hertford County native Catherine Parker received the inaugural Public Health Early Career Alumni Achievement Award during East Carolina University’s College of Health and Human Performance’s National Public Health Week celebration.
Just six months after starting her professional career with Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center, Parker took on leadership of its school-based health program, working with the public school system in Hertford County.
“I’ve always been passionate about making wellness fun and that radiated—my supervisors saw that I’d be good match to work with youth. And I love it. It’s been super rewarding and exciting,” she said.
“I grew up in Hertford County. In high school, my health classes were focused more on sports than on health. It left me wanting a lot more. Youth deserve—they have a right—to know how to take care of themselves, particularly around reproductive health and safety. I have a strong passion for youth wellness and empowerment. Our work covers a broad range, from teaching prekindergarten students how to brush their teeth to teaching high school students how to build healthier relationships. We try to customize our efforts based on what school staff are seeing as issues with their students.”
Among the initiatives that Parker has supported as director of the center are the Farm to School to Healthcare project that established school gardens; student-led farmers markets that provide vouchers for access to free fruits and vegetables; and a literacy initiative within the clinic.
“I had amazing preparation at ECU,” said Parker, who earned her bachelor’s degree in 2010 and her master’s in 2012. “Faculty and staff in the health education and promotion department were incredible. The program fit exactly what I wanted to do and gave me room for creative freedom. I was fortunate to work with Student Health and Campus Wellness, where I was able to put what I learned in class into action right away. Those opportunities really prepared me. And being treated as a professional and equal member of the team, even though I was a student, meant so much to me. I think about that when I’m supervising students now,” she said.
Parker may have graduated but she hasn’t stopped learning. “One of my fears is that I’m going to get stagnant,” she said. “I love learning from other people and being inspired by what they’re doing. It motivates me.”
She was named a Bernstein Community Health Leadership Fellow in 2017 and selected for the Rural Economic Development Institute (REDI) in 2018. She’s also involved with numerous professional and community organizations, including as a board member for the North Carolina School-Based Health Alliance and a member of the Town of Murfreesboro Parks and Rec Advisory Committee.
“Everything we do is based on relationships. Community work is all about knowing and caring for people and making connections with them. Being on the parks and rec committee isn’t part of my job description, but it’s valuable to the work I do. It’s important to understand how we all fit together.
“I’m so proud that in my work I can be true to myself and my values. And that I can give back to a community that’s given so much to me. I’m able to express myself, share ideas, test new things and get people excited about these initiatives. I’ve done things I never imagined I could and it’s been through partnerships with great people in our community.”
In their nomination materials, Parker’s colleagues wrote that “Catherine’s love and passion for rural health, youth health and community health is evident in all her work. She is extremely committed to the community that raised her. She has led this center and staff to new heights of success that exceed all expectations.”