By Ashleigh Bugg
For students on break or between semesters, a summer job, internship or travel opportunity can be transformative. Student.Go, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s missions initiative for students, allows young adults to share their resources by networking with ministry professionals across the country and around the world.
Student.Go interns have filled diverse positions—from helping refugees adjust to new lives in Kentucky and Texas; to collaborating with musical groups in Bali, Indonesia; to providing arts and sports education at summer camps in Miami and Atlanta. By serving through the Fellowship, the goals of students and CBF field personnel can be strengthened.
Caitlyn Furr is a dual-degree student studying public health and theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. She was drawn to a Student.Go position with LUCHA Ministries, Inc., after working in the Washington D.C.-area and seeing CBF field personnel Greg and Sue Smith’s advocacy for immigration reform.
“I’m really passionate about advocacy,” Furr said. “When I met Sue and Greg and heard about their ministry, I was really excited and felt that would be a great fit.”
“Getting to know families and developing trust is critical to effective ministry,” Furr noted. Sylvania Heights Baptist Church in Spotsylvania, Va., where Latino children make up the majority of the church’s summer Vacation Bible School (pictured), creates Beloved Community by welcoming its immigrant neighbors.
The Smiths worked with Furr, encouraging her to use her skills, education and experience to achieve short- and long-term goals. She joined LUCHA Ministries, strengthening the Smiths’ initiative to provide holistic care to the Latino immigrant community in Fredericksburg, Va.
“Sue was kind enough to allow me to bring in some public health work, which allowed me to get experience to complement my education,” Furr said.
Furr worked with Mary Washington Healthcare in Virginia to organize data collected on racial disparities in the Hispanic community related to maternal health and infant mortality.
“We were able to work with Caitlyn on a partnership with the hospital which really isn’t a normal project for a Student.Go intern,” Sue said. “With her help, we were able to go farther than we could go on our own as an agency and touch on a bigger piece of a systemic problem in the community.”
For immigrants living in the United States, access to quality health care can be a challenge. Some may not qualify for services or may work for businesses that do not provide adequate coverage. Others may be intimidated by language barriers or lack access to reliable transportation. Because of these and other reasons, health disparities often exist in Latino and Hispanic communities.
Following her analysis, Furr created a proposal for reducing racial disparities and the infant mortality rate in Fredericksburg. She also interviewed community members to see how the proposal could best meet their needs.
“There wasn’t really anyone in the system saying, ‘Hey, Hispanic health issues are important in Fredericksburg, and we need to address them;” Sue said. “The hospital took the data Caitlyn compiled and said, ‘we still don’t know what to do with it.”‘
Smith, Furr and hospital staff members worked together to receive the input of Latino community members, holding informal interviews in Spanish with those who had received services through Mary Washington Healthcare.
“It was kind of a ‘duh’ moment, actually talking with stakeholders,” Sue said. “I sat in with some of the focus groups at the hospital, and it seemed kind of novel for hospital personnel, maybe something they couldn’t do on their own, which was to network with the actual community.”
The partners found that some of their suggestions were applicable to the community’s needs while others were interesting, but not as imperative. During the course of her project, Furr interviewed 25 families representing nearly 100 individuals in the Fredericksburg community.
“Something I heard often is that we need more education about how to enroll children in Medicaid,” Furr said. “Even if parents are undocumented, U.S.-born children can still get aid. I put the findings into a comprehensive report I gave to Mary Washington.”
Furr’s report not only analyzed the data and presented community interviews, it also offered practical solutions.
“The plan is to have a series of classes that will be taught by various experts at Mary Washington and health experts in general on topics all relating to prenatal and postnatal care,” Furr said. “They’ll have a class, for example, on the importance of prenatal vitamins, bringing someone in who’s an expert to educate the women on that.”
The goal of the classes will be to train leaders who are already within the Latino community, including immigrants who may not be totally fluent in English. They are in the best position to hear and address specific concerns. At the end of the series of classes, the women will receive a certificate from Mary Washington saying they are health advocates – making it a certificate program they can implement. Smith and Furr hope these advocates will be a source of information and aid in their community.
Some feedback they received from community members through the interviews was that classes should be bilingual for families who are still learning English and may not be comfortable with medical jargon. By providing resources in Spanish, the hospital can better serve children and families. They also found that transportation is key.
“I stressed the importance of access to transportation because the people in the community did,” Furr said. “We hope the hospital will take that seriously and provide transportation. I think they will.”
For Furr, it was the relationships she gained by working with LUCHA that motivated her to continue her project.
“I felt like I learned so much about hospitality from the people in that community,” Furr said. “I enjoyed the interpersonal relationships and getting to know all the families and learning from them.”
Furr encourages other students to think about how they can use their resources and skills to fit a public need through programs like Student.Go.
“I would urge students to think about their strengths and think about their goals and then be very vocal about them;” Furr said. “I found being vocal about my passion about this intersection of faith and public health spurred conversation for people like Sue who found where I could plug in. Just looking for those opportunities and jumping in is a good first step.”
Smith agrees that using the resources students already have is one of the best ways to maintain partnerships.
“When a student comes in with Student.Go, we try to get a feel for what their skill set is,” she said. “Since we have students for such a short period of time, we really need them to come in and work with the big picture of what they can do.”
By understanding students’ strengths and needs, both partners can be prepared for the upcoming summer, semester or year of service.
“Students can come in and hit the ground running and be most effective,” Sue said. “It’s not really about working with a set job description we have, it’s being broader than that. Sometimes it’s keeping things going, being the presence of a friend, keeping contacts viable, keeping relationships strong.”
Furr hopes other students can learn from her position.
“I would encourage students to participate in Student.Go. It is a life-changing experience,” she said. “I would encourage them to really commit themselves to it whether it’s for a summer or a semester—to commit to the time and to being changed by it.”
Learn more about and apply to serve through Student.Go at www.cbf.net/studentdotgo.