As we continue to experience evolving public health needs in the U.S., from the opioid epidemic to food insecurity and climate change-related issues, Public Health AmeriCorps (PHA) is a unique partnership between AmeriCorps and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that is focused on innovative approaches to meeting these needs. Launched in 2022, PHA supports the recruitment, training, and development of a new generation of public health leaders to respond to the nation’s public health needs.
In Virginia, we are excited to share updates from our regional PHA site in the City of Richmond, RVA Health Corps, where PHA members are being trained as certified community health workers (CHWs) and embedded with community agencies to provide direct support to underserved residents. The program’s focus is on recruiting and supporting members from historically marginalized and under-resourced communities, providing them with training, building their confidence, and supporting them in getting certified as CHWs in order to serve their communities and address local health inequities going forward.
With the support of partner agencies such as the Richmond Henrico Health District, CHW Strength, and the Virginia Community Health Worker Association, RVA Health Corps trains members in nutrition, CPR, and mental health first aid as well as mitigation strategies for chronic health issues and more. Once trained, RVA Health Corps members are placed in community health organizations, including Bon Secours, La Casa de la Salud, Family Lifeline, and others, where the PHA members provide nutrition education, mental health literacy, and informal chronic disease and mental health counseling in Richmond's low-income neighborhoods. Members also support referrals to healthcare providers, local health agencies, and community organizations.
Some members have never done anything related to community health work, but some are experienced professionals who are returning to the field to serve and gain new skills. Joanne Johnson is in her sixties and has a master’s degree. Some might say she’s overqualified, but she sees RVA Health Corps as a great way to serve her community: “I have enjoyed volunteering as an AmeriCorps member with RVA Health Corps. I joined because helping others is ingrained in me. It’s who I am and my purpose on earth,” says Johnson. “I have learned how important it is to serve and empower others within the community... not only to advocate for them but to help them find their voice. Serving with RVA Health Corps through Bon Secours Hospital has helped me continue to do that and given me the training I need to succeed professionally and personally!”
Still a new program, the coming months will provide opportunities for RVA Health Corps to focus on putting into place structures to ensure that this is more than a service year for their members. Since the mission of the PHA program is to engage citizens in service under the banner of public health and to increase the number of historically marginalized residents going into the health field, RVA Health Corps is working to ensure that their member have networking opportunities and feel prepared for and able to access real job prospects once their service term concludes, providing pathways to critical public health careers for underrepresented Black and Latinx Richmonders who have been systematically excluded from serving and leading their own communities.
To learn more about RVA Health Corps, visit https://www.rva.gov/community-wealth-building/americorps.
To learn more about Public Health AmeriCorps (PHA), visit https://americorps.gov/serve/americorps/americorps-state-national/public-health-americorps.