By Elaine Herscher, Senior Communications Editor
AmeriCorps, which is celebrating 30 years of national service this year, has played an integral role at LifeLong Medical Care for 24 of those years.
Since the first AmeriCorps member came to LifeLong in 1998, more than 200 AmeriCorps members have served with the organization, many of whom have stayed in community health or closely related fields.
Deputy Director of Clinical Operations Kate Lewis, Behavioral Health Director Carrie Cangelosi, and AmeriCorps Health Fellows Manager Beverly “Joy” Kirkwood all started with LifeLong as AmeriCorps members.
But long before they served, Sylvia Hacaj, LifeLong’s current Director of Development & Communications, was instrumental in drafting the legislation that created AmeriCorps. In 1993, Sylvia was a legislative analyst in the House of Representatives and was one of the primary congressional staffers writing and negotiating the National and Community Service Trust Act, the bill that established the Corporation for National Service, the AmeriCorps program, and a host of other national service programs. The following year, she joined the Corporation for National and Community Service as the Deputy Director of Congressional Relations.
“I never imagined when I was a young staffer in Washington that the themes of service to others and policy change would be a touchstone throughout my career and come together so nicely at LifeLong Medical Care,” Sylvia says. “When I learned we had an AmeriCorps program, it was like coming full circle. I immediately felt at home.”
At LifeLong, Deputy Director Lucinda Bazile is considered the “mother” of the AmeriCorps program. For more than two decades Lucinda has been bringing in volunteers to focus on community outreach and engagement, health insurance enrollment, health promotion, and more.
“We are proud of the service that our members have provided over 24 years and appreciate having our current cohort of members sworn in at this year’s kickoff of the 30th anniversary with AmeriCorps President Michael Smith,” Lucinda says.
She notes that AmeriCorps members initiated many programs and projects for LifeLong, such as the Drug Assistance Program, the veggie giveaway, and the mammogram mobile van.
New AmeriCorps member Helen Rosales is in her fourth year studying integrative biology at UC Berkeley and hopes to become a physician. “I’m passionate about community health and advocacy,” Helen says, “and hope to be a leader in bridging the gaps in Latinx health.”
During the COVID pandemic, AmeriCorps members pitched in to assist with setting up preventive healthcare visits after patients received their vaccinations. They also participate in an annual community service project on the Martin Luther King Day National Day of Service. They connect patients with resources, such as Lyft Medical Rides Program, the New Eyes Vision Program, and many others.
The AmeriCorps experience has been enriching for them as well. Many have gone on to graduate school, medical school, or a career at LifeLong or other medical entity.
Joy Kirkwood started as an AmeriCorps Health Fellow straight out of college in 2018. She says that working outreach events such as Cinco de Mayo and the Juneteenth festivals in Richmond helped her overcome her shyness and led to her being hired fulltime for the Outreach and Heart 2 Heart teams. Now she manages the program.
“Developing relationships with not only community members but also LifeLong staff the past four to five years has been really fulfilling and a motivation to keep providing the best work I can,” she says.