“Introduction to Community and Population Health Behaviors–3 Credits.” I remember reading through my public health course options in April and being confused by the superfluous word “community” in this title. How does a community impact health? Doesn’t the environment, or the population you live in, determine your health outcomes, rather than the specific group of people you’re friends with? As I reflect on my summer as a Sharsheret intern, I finally understand what the phrase, “community health” conveys.
Sharsheret has a team of wonderful staff members across the United States, each responsible for supporting the people in their communities, while also working together on national projects to benefit families with genetic mutations or cancers. I observed social workers successfully connect people as Peer-to-Peer supporters, helping each cancer patient find comfort in another person who understood their treatment plan and the emotional toll of diagnosis. I watched as women from different religious backgrounds became close friends, volunteering to make Best Face Forward kits in the Teaneck office weekly. Survivors called the clinical team to recommend clinical trials to other families, helping hundreds of strangers. Children in summer camps handpicked thousands of toys for other children they’d never met in order to keep them occupied during their parents’ treatment. Webinars and collaborations with other organizations on subjects ranging from nutrition to parenting were shared internationally. Anonymous Sharsheret donors supported a fund for non-medical procedures, allowing cancer patients to experience more normalcy during treatment. It seems impossible that only 40 staff members in four offices reach a population of such magnitude. It is only possible for them to achieve this much thanks to the community, or social network, of lay-leaders they built.
What’s special about Sharsheret is that each person they assist is similar to a point on a spider’s web, reaching out in all directions to connect more people to the organization and provide them with support. When sorting through caller donations in July, I realized that a majority of callers discovered Sharsheret through referrals, many of whom live nowhere near their hometowns and have not been aided by Sharsheret themselves. Sharsheret effectively created a community without physical borders, one where members support strangers across the nation out of their own kindness and limitless desire to help others. People feel responsible to help more than their own population at Sharsheret, they are committed to search outside their bubble for anyone that would benefit from Sharsheret’s resources, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or religion. This community is growing exponentially, as more people are brought together from around the globe, and I am so grateful to be involved in this meaningful organization.