Immigrant Scholarship Recipient Hopes to Pursue a Medical Career

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

By Morgan Steward*

 

Our Alternative Spring Break Scholarship recipient, Gabriela Solano Serna has had to overcome many challenges in her young life. Emigrating from Mexico at age 10, Gabriela and her family left behind everything in order to start a new life in the United States. Unable to receive any government aid, including food stamps, medical care or scholarships through FAFSA, Gabriela and her family have struggled to make ends meet. But, instead of discouraging Gabriela, it has motivated her to volunteer in her community to make a difference for those facing hardships like her family.

The Casey Feldman Foundation scholarship stipend enabled Gabriela to travel to Atlanta last year over her spring break to work with the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC). The alternative spring break trip was one of many organized by the Volunteer Resource Center at the University of Colorado Boulder where Gabriela is a student. The AHRC  works to build relationships with individuals who are either suffering from or in danger of contracting HIV/AIDS, STD’s and Hepatitis Viruses and is the only comprehensive harm reduction program in the entire state of Georgia.

During her week in Atlanta, Gabriela did a lot of hands-on work with the coalition in underprivileged communities and visited the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn about the long-term benefits of the work she just participated in. One activity in particular stood out to Gabriela—a needle exchange. A needle exchange is a program that provides drug users with clean needles to prevent them from sharing and re-using contaminated needles, thus drastically lowering the chance of spreading diseases like HIV and AIDS.

“We helped distribute and make safety packs, which [are handed out] to individuals during the needle exchange in a poor community known as the ‘Bluff,’” Gabriela explained.  “After visiting and interacting with individuals from this neighborhood, I was able to see the unprivileged side of the community and learn how the state plays a role in helping the community.”

“I would say that this opportunity helped me—it was definitely an eye opener, but [also] a motivation to pursue a career in the medical field,” Gabriela explained. She hopes to use her talents to become an Obstetrician Gynecologist to honor her sister who passed away in Mexico due to the lack of medical attention.

So what does this remarkable scholarship recipient hope to accomplish in the future? “I am passionate about providing medical care to those in the US that struggle every day to sustain families and who do not have as much access to adequate medical assistance, public benefits (like Medicare) or health care insurance as other privileged groups do,” Gabriela said. As an undocumented immigrant herself, Gabriela’s future plans also include opening a clinic to provide medical assistance, regardless of the patients’ immigration status.

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morga -steward*Morgan Steward is a sophomore Communication and Media Studies student at Fordham University at Lincoln Center (Casey’s alma mater). Born in Beaumont, TX, she to moved to New York City to pursue a career in the media. She is the Arts & Culture Co-Editor of The Observer, Fordham’s student newspaper (where Casey was the News Editor).

“ I want to help others in any way that I can” – Vi-Thuy Vo, Scholarship Recipient

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

By Adriana Gallina*

Thuyvi VoVi-Thuy Vo is currently a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder. While she is still deciding whether to go into high school counseling or join the public health field, there’s one thing she is sure about: “What I want to actually do in life, is help others in any way that I can.”

“I am proud to be a first generation student who works hard to create my own path for success in my family,” Vi-Thuy wrote. While she loves her family and continues to be a role model for her sister thirteen years her junior, she is financially independent.

Her selflessness and devotion to serving others is what made this psychology major the perfect recipient for the 2015 Casey Feldman Foundation Alternative Spring Break Scholarship. The scholarship allowed her to take part in the Harm Reduction: Promoting Health and Prevention Trip based in Atlanta Georgia.

Receiving this scholarship helped relieve some of the monetary burden of volunteering and allowed her to “provide direct service to those who need it most.”

On her trip she worked with four groups, one being the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Another group was Aniz, Inc, which offers support, counseling and HIV testing to those in need. Ana’s spring break trip also took her to the the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC) a wellness organization that focuses on the health of marginalized communities and  the Shepard Center, a rehabilitation center that helps people with a temporary or permanent disability caused by injury or disease.

Vi-Thuy was most excited to work in a new environment with people from diverse backgrounds.

She learned a lot from the Shephard Center about how to interact and work with people with disabilities. “Alternative Breaks definitely made me appreciate how privileged I am,” Vi-Thuy said.

“I worked with two different communities in Atlanta to reduce harm especially with sexual health disparities, which include HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, Hepatitis and other diseases,” she said.

“Working with the AHRC, I learned so much more about public health in different environments and how important it is to adapt to that environment and community you’re working with,”  Vi-Thuy said.

“Being on this trip also reminded me about the different levels people are at and how important it is to be mindful and use all-inclusive language,” she reflected.

Vi-Thuy said she came back from this trip with much more knowledge and a new appreciation for the communities she is a part of.

With this experience, she pledged, “I will continue to help promote and educate the health and wellness topics that matter to our community here at Boulder.”

At Boulder, she continues her work at Community Health, which is the public health division of Wardenburg Health Center which provides health care for all CU students.

Donate to the Casey Feldman Foundation so that other students may experience the rewards of an Alternative Spring Break.

Related Links:

Alternative Spring Break Scholarships Fostering a Generation Who Wants to Give Back –  Nov 2014, Casey Feldman Foundation

About the Alternative Spring Break Program (CU Volunteer Resource Center)

Casey Feldman Foundation Alternative Spring Break Blog News (scroll down for all articles)

Vi-Thuy Vo and her fellow CU students at the Center fo Disease Control in Atlanta

Vi-Thuy Vo and her fellow CU students at the Center fo Disease Control in Atlanta

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Adriana Gallina updated*Adriana Gallina is currently studying Journalism at Fordham College Lincoln Center on a scholarship. She is the Editor-in-Chief of the award winning paper, The Fordham Observer, while working full time to support herself in New York City.

Scholarship Recipient Wants to Save the World

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

Chelsea Miller (R) talking to community members at the AHRC in Atlanta

By Dianne L. Anderson

I am a dreamer, activist and daughter”, said Chelsea Miller, “and first and foremost, someone who wants to make a difference.”  Chelsea Miller has been and continues to make a difference despite significant obstacles in her life.

One of this year’s recipients of a Casey Feldman Foundation Alternative Spring Break scholarship, Chelsea is currently a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder where she is an international affairs major, and Jewish studies minor, focusing on social justice in Africa and the Middle East. She is also studying French, is working on a certificate in digital arts and media and works on campus at the CU recreation center as a Student Coordinator to pay her way through college.

In keeping with her stated desire to “save the world”, Chelsea is heavily involved in volunteer work and campus activities. Chelsea has delivered meals to low income families in Denver since 2006 through Epworth Church, volunteers with the Aids Quilt through Queer Initiative, is an activist with the LGBT community and is the Co-President of  Hillel on campus. Among other activities, Chelsea volunteers with Jewish Colorado and an on-campus program called L’Dor V’Dor, where she delivers meals weekly to the elderly Boulder, Jewish community. She is also currently running for the Representative at Large position for the University of Colorado Student Government.

Chelsea picked up dirty heroin needles from the Bluff

Chelsea has been able to accomplish all of this despite overwhelming hurdles thrown her way. Growing up with an absent and unknown father was not the only hardship that Chelsea has had to face in her life.

Chelsea’s mother is recovering from a potentially deadly disease. Chelsea has been her “support system” and “caretaker”, there with her through attempted suicides, mental hospital visits, and rehabilitation centers. “My mother is my hero, and she has pushed me to be the fighter I am today….While my mother is fighting to live, I fight to make her proud…. I’d like to think that I’m her example to live”, said Chelsea.

Chelsea has continued to be that example by making a difference on her Alternative Spring Break trip to Atlanta this year, funded by the Casey Feldman Foundation. Chelsea’s trip found her working with two non-profits, the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC) and Cool Girls.

Chelsea Miller (left front) with Cool Girls

The AHRC provides education and risk reduction programs to empower adults in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of substance use, HIV/AIDS, STDs, hepatitis, and other communicable diseases. Cool Girls supports girls in all aspects of their development – breaking the cycles of poverty, low self-esteem, and teen pregnancy, helping girls develop into confident women through education and exposure to a broader world of opportunity.

With Atlanta Harm Reduction, Chelsea volunteered in a community referred to as “The Bluff”. Within this neighborhood Chelsea and her fellow student volunteers collected dirty, used heroin needles on several tours of the community. When stationed at the Harm Reduction House, Chelsea assisted with daily duties of the organization, like making coffee for the community members, organizing paperwork, compiling condoms and other preventatives (like dental dams and female condoms) and other basic needs of the organization.

Chelsea had the opportunity to meet and speak with community members during all of her shifts and described the work as “quite fulfilling”. According to Chelsea,

Chelsea assisting a young community member with his homework

The most rewarding moment for me was when I met a man that had never used a computer before. Because of this, he didn’t have a resume and could not apply to jobs online. I showed him how to use a computer, browsers, and Microsoft Word. Then, I helped him develop a resume and set up an email account. After, we spent hours on Craigslist.com scoping out and applying for jobs. He was so thankful, because he had been unemployed and homeless for years. Without these basic skills, he couldn’t assimilate into society like he wanted to. I felt very accomplished showing him basic skills that would impact the rest of his life.

Chelsea described the young people at Cool Girls as “really inspiring”. Through lessons and games that her group planned themselves, focused on math, engineering, science and technology, they talked, played, and learned together. One of the activities involved having the girls create their own scientific invention. After the groups made their inventions, with a detailed business plan, they presented their ideas to the rest of the groups.

Given the adversity faced in her own life, Chelsea stated that her week of volunteering didn’t teach her about society’s woes like poverty, drug addiction or marginalized communities.  “No, this trip instead reminded me of such matters”, stated Chelsea. “This experience was a beautiful awakening; to remind me of where I came from and, now, where I’m going in life….I will continue to serve, and I will continue to have faith in people as long as they continue to have faith in me.”

Chelsea (front right in blue) and her fellow student volunteers in Atlanta

Could this young woman have experienced any greater accomplishments during her Alternative Spring Break week of volunteering? Being the bold and courageous person that she is, Chelsea chose to look up her long lost father whom she was told lived in Atlanta and whom she had never met. Her tenacity proved successful and Chelsea located her father and met him in Atlanta. “I had honestly not even thought about the prospect of meeting a parent during my spring break”, said Chelsea. “This experience was powerful. I reconnected with who I really am and who, in the end, I really want to be.”

Contribute to the Casey Feldman Foundation so that more students may experience the rewards of an Alternative Spring Break.

Chelsea Miller in Atlanta

Related Links:

University of Colorado Boulder Volunteer Resource Center (Plans and organizes Alternative Spring Break trips for students at CU)

Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC)

Cool Girls

Helping our children experience the gift of helping others, article in the Fall CU Parent Newsletter by Casey Feldman’s parents, Joel Feldman and Dianne Anderson in which they discuss the establishment of the Alternative Spring Break scholarships in Casey’s memory

Casey Feldman Inspiration video , produced by CU Boulder broadcast journalism student Kylie Bearse and which aired on CU Boulder TV News, concerning the Alternative Spring Break program and the scholarships established in Casey’s memory

Previous  articles on the Casey Feldman Foundation News and Updates about the Alternative Spring Break Program and the many scholarship recipients who have benefited