Rochester Alum Builds Youth Engagement at Community Health Center
By Caitlin Mack ’12(T5)
Last August, Alykhan Alani ’12 (T5) joined the newly-established adolescent health care team at Anthony Jordan’s Woodward Health Center to address the increasing need for care among youth ages 10 to 19 in Rochester’s Southwest quadrant—an initiative that Alani is helping to spearhead through research and outreach efforts.
“We’re looking to the existing literature and conducting our own research to determine the specific health care needs and barriers to care for youth who live or attend school in the Southwest quadrant,” says Alani. “The goal is to better implement and market services we already offer, and expand our efforts where the need in the community is currently unmet.”
According to a 2011 youth risk behavior survey commissioned by the Rochester City School District, the number of students who regularly saw a primary care provider was around 69 percent. “The importance of preventative primary care for adolescents and their families cannot be overstated,” Alani explains. “What makes Woodward an integral and unique member of this community is that we are committed to meeting our patients’ needs regardless of their ability to pay.”
Alani is one of six fellows currently participating in Rochester Youth Year (RYY), an AmeriCorps VISTA-sponsored program that places recent graduates in community-based organizations for one year to create or expand initiatives addressing various challenges facing youth and families in Rochester. Graduates of Rochester Regional Network colleges, a consortium of seven institutions of higher education in the Rochester-area, are invited to apply to the program, which is based at the Rochester Center for Community Leadership (RCCL) at the University of Rochester.
Through the RYY program, Alani works alongside primary care providers at Woodward to analyze the health needs of youth residing in the 19th Ward and Plymouth-Exchange neighborhoods and build capacity for the implementation of youth programs and services there. Beyond meeting patients’ needs in a clinical setting, Alani also helps link youth to a variety of services, including HSE (high school equivalency) prep, tutoring and afterschool programs, access to food pantries, temporary housing, and conflict resolution workshops.
“Affordable, quality health care is a real need just about everywhere, but especially in this community,” says Alani. “Socio-economic status has profound implications for health and longevity. While we work in a dynamic and vibrant community, we must remain cognizant of the economic marginalization this community has, and continues to endure.”
Alani also conducts ethnographic research that seeks to understand and address non-biological determinants of health. “While we need to meet the immediate need for healthcare in our community, this effort cannot be divorced from the on-going struggle for economic, social, and environmental justice,” he explains. “When we begin to conceptualize interpersonal violence, addiction, housing and food insecurity, interpersonal and institutional racism, and even residential and business zoning as public health issues that affect our collective welfare, we’re confronted with an opportunity to address these challenges in unique and meaningful ways. Social determinants of health are often circumstantially or environmentally imposed on people–mitigating them requires us to continually chip-away at structural inequalities by not only interrogating the ways power and privilege operate in our own lives but also seeking to engage these structures at the institutional and policy-making levels.”
Alani also was brought on to strengthen the health center’s relationship with various youth-oriented community organizations operating in the Southwest quadrant, such as the M.K Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, Teen Empowerment, Rochester Youth Outreach, the Boys and Girls club, schools such as Wilson Commencement Academy and School 29, recreation centers, and faith-based institutions. He conducts focus groups with staff, volunteers, and youth from these partner organizations to ascertain their perspective on healthcare and facilitates the establishment of referral and enrollment networks.
Alani’s passion for community health and desire to live and work in Rochester after graduation was sparked the summer after his sophomore year while working at Anthony Jordan Health Center on Hudson Avenue as part of Rochester’s Urban Fellows Program. “That was my first experience with on-the-ground community health work, which fueled my desire to explore career opportunities within Rochester’s nonprofit sector,” he says.
Alani has maintained ties to Rochester’s public health program through his efforts at Woodward, hosting undergraduate research interns Alyssa Teck ’15 in the fall and Jenna Kole ’14 in the spring. Both were enrolled in Dr. Nancy Chin’s community engagement class.
“I firmly believe that service-learning initiatives allow students to have an engaging and meaningful experience with the Rochester community beyond shopping and nightlife. It can really change one’s perspective on this city,” he says. “Investing institutional resources into service learning programs and expanding the role of campus institutions like the Rochester Center for Community Leadership and University-affiliated partners like the Gandhi Institute is vital to fully realizing not only our commitment to Rochester, but our cherished and sanguine motto, Meliora.”
Last year, Alani completed a Take 5 project studying social capital and community development, which solidified his interests in grassroots and community organizing and non-profit work. He graduated last May with a bachelor’s in international health and society and minors in gender and women’s studies and religion. As an undergraduate, Alani was involved with RCCL, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), MetroJustice, and the Gandhi Institute (where he currently serves as a board member). After he completes his Rochester Youth Year fellowship in August, he plans on continuing to pursue a career in community health work and activism.
Those interested in applying to the 2014-15 Rochester Youth Year Program can apply here. The application deadline is Friday, March 7.
In the Photo: Attendees and speakers at a recent Woodward youth night.