(Posted March 8, 2021)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. – Juniata College alumni Angela Wilkins ’20 and Maria Fowler ’20 are serving in year-long community health positions funded through AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) and hosted by the College.

The VISTA projects, supported by a grant from Penn Highlands Huntingdon Foundation, aim to build the capacity of Juniata College and other community organizations to develop and implement initiatives aimed at improving health and well-being for all residents of Huntingdon County. The VISTAs are building a community health coalition to inform, support, and assess community health needs, as well as to identify and coordinate community assets and resources.

Wilkins, from Tyrone, Pa., is serving as a Community Mental Health Needs Coordinator, supervised by Kathryn Westcott, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Juniata. 

“I am working to identify gaps in and barriers to mental health services in Huntingdon County,” said Wilkins, who earned her degree in neuroscience. “My project was designed to help support the delivery of services by establishing a collaborative framework for sharing information on resident and provider needs, resources available in the county, and the development of new opportunities to meet identified needs.”

This VISTA project is currently in the first year of its three-year effort focused on mental health with Penn Highlands Hospital as the primary community partner. Wilkins hopes to continue her work into the second year of the project. 

“After working as a crisis counselor locally during my senior year at Juniata College, I decided that staying in the area for a service position would be a rewarding way to pursue my passions for rural and mental health care and to help address the challenges impacting access to mental health care services in Huntingdon County,” she said. 

Fowler, from Reedsville, Pa., is serving as a Community Health Literacy Coordinator, supervised by Sarah Worley, Ph.D., associate professor of communication and director of community-engaged learning at Juniata. 

“My project focuses on promoting health literacy in Huntingdon County through the ACHIEVE (Advancing Community Health Innovation through Education, Vision, and Empowerment) program, which aims to provide area youth with a health education curriculum, followed by projects to address community health issues,” said Fowler, who earned a degree in biochemistry.

Now in its second year, this VISTA project is a three-year project focused on health literacy with Huntingdon Area High School principal Travis Lee working as the project’s community partner. Fowler succeeds Madison Hearn ’19 who completed the first year of the project. 

“Growing up in rural, Central Pennsylvania, I have witnessed the unique healthcare challenges faced by rural communities,” said Fowler. “I decided to participate in a year of service to learn more about medically-underserved populations and to assist individuals in understanding how to live healthy lifestyles and navigate the healthcare system.”

Fowler plans to begin medical school next year. 

AmeriCorps is program supported by the federal government, private donors, organizations and businesses which aims to engage adults to help others while meeting critical needs in the community through public service.

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.