Schweitzer Fellows focus on underserved

Albert Schweitzer
Albert Schweitzer

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The Community Care Clinic in Winston-Salem was not offering any physical therapy to clients.

So Alex Sovall, the first-ever Albert Schweitzer Fellow from Winston-Salem State University, focused his year-long fellowship on creating a free physical-therapy clinic at the Community Care Clinic to serve underserved and uninsured individuals in Forsyth Stokes and Davie counties.

Since his fellowship ended in 2010, the physical-therapy clinic has been sustained by faculty and students at the School of Physical Therapy at Winston-Salem State.

And as part of their Schweitzer fellowships this coming school year, WSSU students Clinton Serrafino and Timothy Serrano will team with a physical-therapy faculty mentor Dora Sole at WSSU to conduct mobile pediatric screenings that assess gross motor skills, health and wellness, dietary status, and vision.

Launched in Boston in 1991, the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship made its first expansion in 1994, when it started its North Carolina program in partnership with the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem and other funders, and now operates a total of 13 program sites throughout the U.S.

Named for the German philosopher, theologian and physician who in 1953 at age 78 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work, the Schweitzer Fellowship has provided over 400,000 hours of service to the communities it serves.

Each year, the program supports 250 graduate students from top health and human-service schools in the U.S.

Since the North Carolina Schweitzer Fellows Program began, hundreds of Fellows in the state have delivered over 60,000 hours of direct service to vulnerable individuals.

The program recently selected two-dozen graduate students as Fellows to work throughout the state in the coming school year.

“Our mission is to address health disparities by developing leaders in service,” says Barbara Heffner, program director for the North Carolina Schweitzer Fellows.

Just over half the incoming North Carolina fellows are medical students, and the others include students in fields such as nursing, social work, dentistry, divinity, law, education, physical therapy and other allied-health disciplines.

Jonet Artis and Sara Hopson from the School of Education at N.C. Central University, for example, will conduct a communications enrichment program for residents at Durham Ridge Assisted Living, while Linda King from the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences at NCCU, will put into place a diabetes prevention and management project and wellness program targeting African-Americans at Shady Hill Baptist Church in Durham.

“We want them to follow their passion for either a specific health-care topic or serving a particular underserved population,” Heffner says.

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust provided $89,000 to help start the North Carolina program, another $60,000 in 1998, and $180,000 over three years starting in 2008.

The current grant, now in its final year, supports fellows who are graduate students at historically black colleges and universities in the state, as well as graduate students who are working on issues aligned with the foundation’s work, often for recipients of its grants.

The current grant also provides stipends of up to $1,000 that agencies can use to sustain programs that Schweitzer Fellows started.

Without the support of the Reynolds Trust, Heffner says, the Schweitzer Fellows Program would not have been able to launch the initiative at historically black colleges and universities.

Allen J. Smart, director of the health-care division at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, says a key goal of the Fellows program is to “energize outstanding graduate students who are interested in community service, and put them in positions where they will acquire a lifelong commitment to community service, whether professionally or personally, or both.”

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