In Spring 2018, 42 students earned their Certificate of Competence and became the first graduates of Kapiʻolani Community College’s Community Health Worker (CHW) Program.
As part of The Queen’s Care Coalition team, three CHW graduates recently shared their stories and reflected on their experiences as frontline public health workers. Kyra, Joele, and Veronica are caseworkers for clients who, through whatever social determinants, are left behind. The CHWs reach out to individuals like the homeless, the chronically ill, those who struggle with substance abuse or have psychiatric disorders. These individuals live in distressed areas in downtown Honolulu, Chinatown, shelters, parks, those in emergency rooms or where known disadvantaged populations are found. The CHWs are navigators, working through paperwork, rules, and regulations, and finding and securing appropriate resources to deliver needed assistance to a client. As a navigator, the CHW makes sure a client gets the right care at the right time. It is not enough to say, “Make sure you go to the pharmacy to pick up your medication.” Sometimes it is necessary for the CHW to go to the pharmacy for the client. Sometimes it is necessary to shop for groceries or make sure a client keeps a doctor’s appointment. The CHW does not assume that a client “forgot” a doctor’s appointment because sometimes it is a matter of not having money to pay for bus fare.
For Kyra, Joele, and Veronica, developing rapport and building trust in a relationship are the keys to deliver their caregiving. When a relationship is established between the CHW and the client, the bond that is forged is indescribable. Joele put it this way: “Our clients have delicate self-esteem. After constantly being put down, they begin to believe there is nothing left but more disappointments. Showing compassion is their hope to be rescued and their trust in us assures them they will always have their dignity.”
Kyra recalls how she took a homeless person to a fast food restaurant and they refused to enter, saying, “I don’t want to embarrass you.” Kyra believes her clients respond to kindness in genuine ways, often through tears of gratitude, but always with a smile.
Veronica recalled a 46-year old homeless client she helped get off the streets and into a shelter. She feels it is so rewarding to see her clients turn their lives around and come back just to say, “thank you.”
The three CHWs interviewed gushed and glowed with their stories. The experiences on the job are for them reciprocal and transformational. They see how they are helping their clients as much as how their clients are helping them to be stronger, and better in understanding their needs. Kyra, Joele, and Veronica feel that the help they give their clients is a privilege and in a heartbeat, they all said they want to continue doing what they are doing for as long as they can.
There are not enough superlatives to describe the passion of the three CHWs interviewed. But their work and dedication need to be applauded and recognized. They fill a valuable niche by improving the health and social welfare of the communities they serve.
More about the Community Health Worker
The CHW facilitates access to services with existing healthcare providers or agencies, makes referrals to appropriate resources, and follows up with essential care for clients assigned to them. Sometimes a CHW is a social worker, sometimes an outpatient nurse, sometimes a counselor, sometimes a teacher, but always a friend.
It is possible to complete a Community Health Worker Certificate of Competence in two to three semesters. The certificate requires 15 credits, and all classes are held in the evenings.
Read more about the Community Health Worker program at Kapiʻolani Community College.
You may also contact one of the Health Sciences counselors, or the CHW coordinator for more information on this rewarding career: