BY Eileen Z. Fuentes (@theSPEACHgal)
Last year local residents were shocked to hear that North General Hospital located in central Harlem was closing its doors after filing for bankruptcy. This was devastating news to our already medically underserved community but more directly to those patients undergoing cancer treatment. As illustrated below, Harlem has the highest death rates when compared to other parts of the city.
This catastrophic event sparked the Students of the City College Academy of Professional Preparation (CCAPP) to research what resources were available and how they could offer support to this group of displaced patients. While doing research for this project, one of the class instructors saw a video of me on the Internet and soon after I was asked to speak about the wellness series I started at Columbia University Medical Center’s, Clinical Breast Cancer Center. I talked in depth about my goal to reduce cancer disparities, the importance of nutrition and self-care and the positive impact it had on me as well as the women in my group. Inspired by what I had accomplished, they asked me to serve as advisor for their semester projects.
The eager and incredibly bright group of pre-med students hit the ground running. They worked on group projects ranging from audio interviews featuring participants of my program, they held a large-scale healthy food drive using items from the anticancer foods list I prepared, they put together a booklet loaded with healthy tips and recipes in both English and Spanish, and organized massive fundraising efforts to support my wish to turn the company I started, The SPEACH (The Self, Promotion, Empowerment, Advocacy and Care Haven), into a thriving entity. Specifically, they targeted their school, local businesses, and churches. To close the activities, the CCAPP students invited me to take part in their wellness-themed final event. There was a DJ, massage therapists, raffles, face-painting and lunch was provided to those who donated. The highlight for me was to able to look at all the eager faces and thank them personally for all they had done for me and the women I serve.
Last week on December 13th, the CCAPP students, Dr. Millicent Roth (Director of the Program), and the class instructors sponsored a holiday celebration. They asked me to invite members of my wellness series as well as those of New York Presbyterian’s cancer support group, led by Outreach Coordinator (and my good friend), Jenny Saldaña. The three student groups introduced themselves, allowed us to preview their video projects and enthusiastically distributed the collection of food they lovingly prepared in recyclable bags displaying a logo designed by one the students. They spoke directly to the women that were benefitting from their hard work. How many times have you supported a cause but never see the person on the receiving end? What an impact this had on all parties involved! The room was filled with laughter, and in some instances tears, as we were all overcome with emotion at their generosity and hard work.
It’s hard for me to put into words the immense love and gratitude I feel for the CCAPP students, the women of my group, the instructors and all those that have loved and supported me and my vision. It takes a village to heal our community and together I know we will make an impact.
“When you learn, teach, when you get, give.” — Maya Angelou