From Salt Lake to Atlanta via Alpha Chi: Amy Richards is All Heart

In the spring of last year, I arrived at the Alpha Chi National Convention as a senior from Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah, prepared to soon receive my Bachelor of Science in Public Health with minors in Anthropology and Spanish. Upon election to the National Council as the Region VII Student Representative, it became clear to me that I had actually been invited into a family. A family built on far more than just intellectual brilliance—one of constant wonder, enthusiasm, curiosity, collaboration, innovation, and humility. At that time, I also knew I had a profoundly uncertain future of being midway through many an application and interview process. I wasn’t ready for graduate school right away; I needed a couple years to apply my skills, test different realms within public health, and expand my perspective of the world. In the end, I chose AmeriCorps as the best path for at least beginning this pursuit, especially after feeling a strong desire to serve in some manner.

After searching for AmeriCorps positions across the nation which incorporated both my skillset and passion, I settled on one…all the way across the nation in Atlanta, Georgia. I was to work in a Title I elementary school with a 50% immigrant/refugee and 80% low-income student body. My task was to identify and address not just their own nonacademic needs but also those of their families in order to improve each student’s holistic well-being and academic potential. To comprehensively and competently meet this gaping need, I spent the first 5 months of my service year building a resource center within the walls of the school.

After performing interviews of staff and needs assessments of families, I began to structure a center around the social determinants of health based upon my past work in the field. Examples of such determinants for a family include socioeconomic status, education, neighborhood and physical environment, employment, and social support networks. I spent the fall and winter creating 30+ partnerships and all the systems/procedures for operation of a center. We opened the doors in January, and I have since been leading a team to operate it. We offer health, social, and educational services in addition to referrals to a variety of services not feasible to provide in-house. Though I still have several months to go, I have come to value my experience as greatly as I had hoped. It has provided me exactly the perspective and challenge necessary to encourage my own growth and remind me just how much I still must learn.

I now find myself back on the search for a new position, applying and interviewing all over again. Though still the same passionate woman who sat at the convention a year ago, I have certainly learned and experienced far more than she could have ever imagined within a year’s time. I stand stronger, more open, and more grounded, despite the uncertain future knowing I have the supportive family of Alpha Chi right behind me as I push on with life-long curiosity to learn. May that gift of wonder never leave you either, my brilliant fellows.