Initiatives that emulate the Health Corps Models needed

Many among us are saddened by ethnic and religious wars being fought throughout the world. We also are deeply concerned about our crumbling failing schools and the long-term unemployment experienced by vast segments of the population. It is not surprising that those imprisoned in poverty and urban decay suffer and this can lead to eruptions, like the recent up surge of random violence in the United Kingdom. This kind of turmoil ravages cities, destroys families, and leaves orphans and homelessness in its wake.

As cities and their infrastructure deteriorate, lives are being destroyed by increased violence, generational poverty and chronic drug abuse. In particular, one segment of our society has more fully felt the effects of the unending chaos of urban war-zones. CBS news reports, “While unemployment among the general population is about 9.1 percent, it’s at 16.2 percent for African Americans, and a bit higher still for African American males.” Such grim statistics are low because they do not count those individuals who have given up looking for work, or for whom desperation has turned either inward toward deepening depression or outward toward crime. Robbery and thieving accelerates as neighbor often turns against neighbor to capture needs or wants. Schools are a microcosm of society. On returning after a leave of several years, one public school teacher was horrified by the changes she saw. She fondly remembered school days beginning with her greeting of “Good morning class” to which the students would respond in unison, “Good morning Mrs. Jones.”

On her first morning back she entered the classroom and said “Good morning.” One student responded, “Shut up bitch.” Such occurrences along with increased bullying and random acts of violence are far too common in our schools. Far too many young children suffer from disturbances in sleep, eating disorders and hypertension — conditions that often go unaddressed or even escalate in underfunded schools where teachers have been laid off and resources are non-existent. Despite a mostly grim picture, programs with a holistic focus, that if more widely implemented, might bring some light to what is a grim prognosis.

The HealthCorps® was founded in 2003 by heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz and his wife Lisa. Using an integrative approach, underserved populations are given the tools of empowerment through in-school and community projects ( Using the tools of peer mentoring, community involvement, activism and advocacy, HealthCorps is a proactive organization designed to help communities and individuals build mental resilience and fight obesity. Taking such a comprehensive approach to these problems is what makes this program different from the many, which solely focus on one aspect of complicated issues. A program, which puts a Band-Aid on one problem while neglecting others, is doomed to failure.

Although HealthCorps is a relatively small program, it is growing and can be successfully implemented in many places, is cost effective and produces jobs. Several years ago I suggested that one of my clients, a recent college graduate, look into becoming a HealthCorps coordinator in New York. The qualities he brought to the program were an excellent academic record, extensive service to the community and participation in competitive sports. His experience has been extraordinary and in a recent note described the flexibility that he was allowed to help expand programs based on each group’s specific needs. Inner city work is not one-size-fits-all. Places differ as cultures differ and although the resulting problems may look the same, one key to success is respecting the specific population and its unique struggles.

What my former student noted was that his responsibility went far beyond the program guidelines. His students were young adults from various countries who had come to the United States in their late teens or early 20s. They needed a mentor to help them negotiate one of the most difficult transitions that a person can make — to successfully transition between one way of life and another. Successful in this task, he has been hired for a third year to spread the initiative and programs of the HealthCorps. I knew this person would be successful in this work and reading his update brought me to tears. He is now in a position that can help make a difference to hundreds of people — something he always had wanted to do.

Although failing schools are microcosms of society, the problems are much broader and programs, which focus on the totality of a community, are in a better position to succeed. In this time of economic free-fall and long-term unemployment or underemployment, it is my hope that any new initiatives emulate models like the HealthCorps. We need a figurative ‘airlift’ to change the pattern many families in inner cities and likewise other impoverished citizens struggle with. Those in this sad state need to be lifted from lives of violence, hopelessness and fear into a place of rebuilt dreams, security and love.