August 19, 2016 by Shreya Dundumalla
Amelia Fisher is a junior global studies major with a concentration in global health, science and sustainability and minors in Spanish, public health, and science, technology and society. Since March 2016, she has been working as a co-op for UConnect, a nonprofit organization that strives to help local residents effectively utilize Philadelphia’s social services.
This interview has been condensed and edited for style.
Triangle Talks: Can you explain what UConnect is?
Amelia Fisher: Sure. So, West Philadelphia was characterized as a promise zone by President Obama, meaning that it’s a territory in the U.S. that’s in extreme poverty. The label “promise zone” is meant to increase the social service and hopefully the employment in these areas.
UConnect provides a type of referral service to Philadelphia community members that connects them with different kinds of resources. We train navigators to work one-on-one with community members to set goals and prioritize their needs. For example, some might be looking for a low-income house but may not know where to start. We help them look at market prices or government subsidized houses. We have a resource guide filled with a list of different resources under domains like housing, public benefits, employment, healthcare and more.
Basically, if someone comes in completely lost about a certain problem, we try to ease their confusion and steer them in the right direction by referring them to the correct resources available in the area. That doesn’t mean UConnect is exclusive to low-income community members. Our service tends to predominantly serve the underprivileged because they need it the most, but the organization’s service is open to all community members.
TT: When did you become involved there?
AF: I joined UConnect through my part-time co-op that began in March 2016. I’m UConnect’s first co-op, so it’s very exciting to help expand UConnect’s staff. After my spring/summer coop, I will be returning to UConnect this Fall as a Drexel Community Scholar, which is a program based out of the Lindy Center and I will continue to support UConnect as a part-time staff member.
TT: What have you been doing at your co-op?
AF: I helped develop UConnect by editing the resource guide and adding on to the guide to make it more user-friendly for navigators. I also helped develop outreach for UConnect in the neighborhood by passing out flyers at places like festivals and local restaurants. I’ve also worked as a navigator and a trainer for navigators. Overall, since there are only a few UConnect staff members, I have been very involved in every aspect of UConnect’s development.
TT: What would you like to see accomplished with UConnect?
AF: UConnect is still growing. My main objective is to get more people to utilize our resources so they can find the connections they need to succeed. Right now, I would like more student volunteers that could dedicate 3-4 hours per week to community members. I think it is important to have Drexel students become more aware of the poverty in Philadelphia and to recognize that the Drexel bubble is not all of Philly. We need to be more conscious of what is around us and how we can bridge the barriers that exist between University City and West Philadelphia.
TT: What was your favorite memory at UConnect?
AF: Every time a community member leaves and says ‘Wow you’ve really helped, and I look forward to our next meeting.’ I think it shows that we really had an A+ meeting, and our program is really helping the community and working well.
TT: What are your post-graduation plans?
AF: Right now, I have an upcoming internship in Beijing from January to June 2017. Both of my parents are currently living there — my father is a psychiatrist for the state department and my mother is a nurse. I’m going to be working in a hospital and helping with philanthropic outreach.
TT: Do you have any long-term goals?
AF: My long-term goal is to pursue a master’s degree in social welfare out west in Berkeley and to ideally work in a hospital setting with people who are not primarily from the area who might be a little confused about navigating the system. I’d like to work as a liaison between doctors and patients and work with the patients even after they leave the hospital as a follow-up and make sure they’re okay.
TT: What sparked your interest in hospital work?
AF: I grew up with chronic asthma and was used to being in a hospital. Sometimes I didn’t know what was really going on. Luckily, my dad is an MD and my mom is a nurse, which made everything easier to understand. But this experience made me think about people who don’t have parents in the healthcare sector and how they need a bridge for what their diagnosis means. Quite often, doctors use unfamiliar medical terminology that can confuse and scare the patient.
UConnect is looking for student volunteers that can devote 3-4 hours per week to community service. If you are interested, please feel free to contact the organization at [email protected] or 215-571-4860.