Juniata College Alumni Serve Community Through AmeriCorps VISTA
(Posted February 7, 2023)
HUNTINGDON, Pa. – Juniata College alumni Gillian Letson ’22 and Jasmine Boots ’22 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.
Letson, from Philipsburg, Pa., is serving as a Preventative Health Coordinator with Broad Top Area Medical Center (BTAMC), supervised by Sarah Worley, Director of Community Engaged Learning at Juniata, and partnering with Shelly Rivello, Chief Operating Officer at BTAMC.
“Through the Health Communication class at Juniata, I learned about the wide-reaching impacts of community health and social determinants of health. I started to look at the opportunities offered by the Community Engagement Office that involve work in healthcare in Huntingdon,” said Letson, who earned her degree in biology for public health with a secondary emphasis in communication. “The AmeriCorps VISTA program seemed like a great gap year opportunity to do public health work before I go on to seek a master’s degree in public health.”
Access to healthcare is a vital part of preventative healthcare, so meeting and expanding home visits and telehealth service options are critical.
“There is a lot of work to do so that these services can reach more people more efficiently,” she said. “From day one, I have been doing research, grant writing, and project management work. I appreciate seeing what I can do as a capacity builder, whether it’s helping a project progress faster, going the extra mile, or simply taking some work off the hands of hard-working providers in our area.”
Boots, from Lancaster, Pa., is serving as a Community Mental Health Needs Coordinator, supervised by Kathy Westcott, Charles A. Dana Professor of Psychology.
“I became interested in serving because I am passionate about community work,” said Boots, who earned a degree in psychology. “I wanted to pursue an opportunity that would enable me to grow professionally while still having a positive impact on my community.”
Her goal is to expand the capacity and scope of access to mental health services in Huntingdon County.
“We’ve been doing things like creating and distributing a resource guide for mental health services in the county, as well as collecting data on barriers to access. All of this is accomplished in collaboration with various health and social service agencies in the county,” Boots said. “A big focus of the project is outreach, which means I am making a lot of connections within the community. I’ve been able to meet many different people and help with a variety of initiatives, including fundraising for Out of the Darkness and volunteering to cover a booth during the county fair.”
Following completion of her service with AmeriCorps VISTA, Boots plans to pursue a graduate degree in counseling to become a service provider.
AmeriCorps is a 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (814) 641-3131 for more information.