THE BLOG
06/26/2013 09:07 am ET Updated Aug 26, 2013

How National Service Changed Our Lives

Sidra Bonner, 23, Community HealthCorps

I serve because I believe health inequity diminishes the American value of equal opportunity.

Health inequality in underserved communities destabilizes neighborhood structures, limits social mobility and financial security, and ultimately diminishes the quality of life of millions of Americans. My decision to spend a year serving in AmeriCorps and promoting health in an underserved community was rooted in the simple notion that good health is the foundation that makes the American Dream possible.

For ten and a half months I served with Community HealthCorps, the largest health care based AmeriCorps program in the nation, supported by the National Association of Community Health Centers. My fellow nine corps members and I interacted with over thirteen hundred patients in Commerce City, Colorado. We helped patients leaving the hospital with their post-discharge care coordination, and achieved a 9.7% readmissions rate, which is lower than half the national average.

One of the unique parts of the program was the home visits we conducted for our high-risk patients, which provided us a glimpse into the full lives of patients outside of a clinical environment. These visits included teaching diabetes education to a homeless couple living in a garage, organizing a patient's pill box with over a dozen medications, assessing the safety of rooms and stairs for elderly patients, and discussing transitional housing with families.

As I begin to prepare for my first year of medical school at University of California-San Francisco, I know that my experience with Community HealthCorps has given me a holistic view of health that will allow me to look beyond the physical ailments effecting patients. Ultimately, being a part of Community HealthCorps has allowed me to not only witness the impact service can have on the health of communities but also provided me the platform necessary to expand the skills and beliefs I will carry into my future career.

Evelyne Santiago, 22, City Year

I serve because I am the product of what happens when others invest in your potential. In first grade I was still learning English, and every week my dad and I would practice vocabulary, but because he emigrated from Mexico with only a 7th grade education his broken English could only help me so much.

Thankfully, my older cousin Sammy was willing to help me with my schoolwork, and by 6th grade I was enrolled in honors English. I was never able to share my first 6th grade report card with Sammy, because he was killed as a result of gang violence. Because Sammy invested in me, I became the first person in my family to graduate from college.

Many students don't have the support they need to reach their potential. That's why I serve as a City Year AmeriCorps member at Belmont High School in Los Angeles' Pico-Union neighborhood, where the graduation rate hovers around 50%. Each day, I work with my team to focus on improving Attendance, Behavior, and Course Performance. As tutors, mentors, and role models, City Year AmeriCorps members provide capacity that helps schools meet the individual needs of students

When I think about the impact I've made, I think about Jessica. Last September, Jessica had an F in her English class and would be absent two or three days a week. Jessica was missing school in order to translate for her mother as she ran errands and paid bills for her family. So, we made a to-do list of all of her assignments and kept track of all the days she consecutively attended school. We met every day for six months to work on reading comprehension and critical thinking, and worked to make up assignments.

By the end of the year, Jessica raised her F in English to a B and had 93% attendance. My team of 15 at Belmont, the 275 serving in Los Angeles, and the 2,500 serving in 238 urban schools nationwide with City Year are working to change the trajectory of our students. Last year in Los Angeles alone, 77% of students tutored by City Year improved their performance in Math and English.

This year has taught me that unlocking the potential of students like Jessica takes the investment of committed individuals who won't let them settle for less than their best. We must believe in the power of national service to solve the high school dropout crisis and enable more young people like me to be a part of the solution.

This post is part of a collaboration between The Huffington Post and The Aspen Institute, in which a variety of thinkers, writers and experts will explore the most pressing issues of our time. For more posts from this partnership, click here. For more information on The Aspen Institute, click here.

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