My reflection on MPHA

Front door of the Congregational House, which is where MPHA is located along with many other nonprofit organizations.

Now that I only have a few weeks left of my internship at the Massachusetts Public Health Association (MPHA), I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my experience. A significant thing that I’ve learned is that everyone’s duties align with each other in that each person’s job is significant for another person to be successful in their own job. I spoke about this in my third blog post, which spoke on the process of my organization and how they achieve their goals. Also, since MPHA is a nonprofit organization, many of the staff members will help another staff member in need since the staff size is so small. For instance, when the Events Manager needed some help with the Spring Awards Breakfast, other staff members were able to help. The community is strong and everyone is okay with helping other staff members because they know how important the work is.

Throughout my internship, I’ve interviewed different MPHA partners to then create a story about how MPHA has positively impacted their organizations and communities where these organizations are located. Before I worked on this project, I helped MPHA with their spring awards breakfast during the month of May. I created posters, contacted potential guests, updated the salesforce database, made trips to Staples, and more. This was a big payoff for me because by the day of the breakfast, I was so proud to have played a role in its execution. It was a beautiful breakfast and I was able to listen to the speeches of the different public health honorees at the breakfast. One of the honorees Dr. Megan Sandel, who wrote a study that I analyzed in my Epidemiology & Biostatistics class that I took this past spring semester.

Something that I wish I knew when my internship started is that I should expect to have responsibilities in many different areas rather than just the one area that I was expecting to. Like I said earlier, since the staff/organization is so small, staff members will offer their hand in help for activities that other staff members are doing. This is why my responsibilities varied from interviewing public health professionals to entering data on the salesforce database. I wish I knew this when I first started so that I wouldn’t be surprised when I would spend the day doing something other than what I was originally told I would be doing prior to when my internship started.

I would tell people to keep this in mind if they will be interning for MPHA or another nonprofit organization. I also recommend to take advantage of all the connections that you will make throughout the internship. It is so important to have connections to land you a job after graduating college. Make sure to build a relationship not only with the staff members of the organization, but also with the professionals that you will meet outside your organization during your internship. Finally, I would recommend taking advantage of bigger assignments that are offered to you so that you can gain more experience and build your resume. But most of all, enjoy your time as an intern because it is your opportunity to immerse yourself in the workplace while still having the experience of being a student in college.

Skills I’ve gained at MPHA

Now that I have been interning at the Massachusetts Public Health Association (MPHA) for nearly three months, I’ve developed various skills that I did not have before. My main responsibility at MPHA is to interview different MPHA partners about the positive impact that MPHA and its programs has had on their organization and the community around their location. I then writes stories about their experiences, which are then uploaded to their website and included in print materials. This responsibility has helped me gain skills in creating interview questions, conducting a formal interview, and writing stories that will appeal to everyone, whether they are in the public health field or not.

Interviews that I have conducted and have yet to conduct have been/will be with staff members at Groundwork Lawrence in Lawrence, MA, Healthy Community Initiatives in Revere MA, Fitchburg Community Connections Coalition in Fitchburg, MA,

Revere City Hall, which is where Healthy Community Initiatives is located.

Edward M Kennedy Community Health Center in Worcester, MA, The South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA, and Berkshire Interfaith Organizing in Pittsfield, MA. I research the organization and the person that I’m interviewing prior to the interview so that I will know how to create the questions.

This has been very beneficial to me because I have the opportunity to meet with different professionals. Since I am a rising senior, post-graduate life has been on my mind a lot, and I am always thinking about my future job. My career will be very different from my life now. Right now, most of the adults that I speak to are my teachers. However, I need to gain experience with professionals in the workplace since that is where I will be after I graduate. Therefore, talking with professionals in my field at this internship gives me a head start in feeling comfortable with talking to these people when I’m in the workplace. This experience has also provided me with important connections with people that can potentially help me in obtaining a job post-graduation.

Throughout this internship I have been imagining my future career and what I would like in my ideal workplace. I feel that sitting in an office 9-5 is pretty unavoidable. Luckily, I don’t seem to mind it. I think that what will be most important for me in my future career is that I am working with individuals that I get along with well and add some excitement to the office. I believe that anything can be much more enjoyable when you are with people that you like. I also appreciate working in a city rather than the suburbs because it is convenient, and I also appreciate my mid-afternoon strolls when I start to become restless sitting at my desk all day.

 

Me helping with MPHA’s rally for the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund at the State House.

Finally, I learned that I really enjoy meeting new people and gaining connections throughout the city. I’ve met people at my workplace, in the State House, and in many different cities across Massachusetts. Meeting these different people has given me inspiration and always makes me excited to go back to MPHA to fulfill my own duties after hearing about the impact these professionals are making in their own community.

MPHA’s small, collaborative steps to big accomplishments

The Massachusetts Public Health Association is a social justice- focused organization with the goal of creating greater health access to those most vulnerable in the state of Massachusetts. The organization has a small staff and a board of directors. There are 8 staff members: Jodie Silverman is the Interim Executive Director, Akosua Siever is the Director of Development, Andrea Freeman is the Field Director, Melanie O’Malley is the Communications and Policy Manager, Alexa Piacenza is the Events and Administrative Manager, Maddie Ribble is the Director of Public Policy and Campaign Strategy, Kristina Cyr is the Coalition and Advocacy Manager, and Nopalzin Torres is the Finance and Operations Manager.
Each staff member has their own job with its own set of responsibilities. However, everyone‘s duties align with each other’s in order to complete a common goal. In the case of MPHA the common goal is to “create health equity for all” while also promoting their organization in order to create a greater following and consequently raise their chances of receiving government funding for their programs. I will give an example of how everyone’s duties aligned in order to put on a great Spring Awards Breakfast, a fundraising event that helps them receive funding for their impactful programs.
Andrea goes out into the community and observes the problems that need fixing. She forms strong relationships with Massachusetts residents and works closely with various organizations in order to fully understand the problems that the communities are facing. She then relays this information on to the staff members and MPHA’s partnering organizations who then create a potential policy/ program that may be able to fix the problem.
The Edward M Kennedy Community Health Center is a partner with MPHA for the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund (PWTF). They have a strong relationship with MPHA and one of their staff members spoke at one of MPHA’s rallies at the State House for funding for the PWTF.
Edward M Kennedy CHC staff member speaking at MPHA rally
Policy and advocacy managers, Maddie and Kristina with this new information make trips to the state house to speak to policymakers/go to hearings in hopes of getting granted funding for their program. When MPHA has successes, Melanie, the Communications manager, communicates this on social media and the website and creates a following for the organization. An example is when MPHA secured $6 million for the Mass Food Trust, a program that they routinely fight for funding for. This program benefits Massachusetts residents that live in places where there is little to no access to healthy and affordable food. With the organization’s following, Akosua makes major decisions regarding MPHA events (in this case, the spring awards breakfast, which is a fundraiser), and Alexa, the events manager, carries out the decisions and puts on the event. She emails guests, updates databases, chooses a venue, etc. Jodie, the ED overlooks all of this while building relationships with various other organizations and Massachusetts residents in order to keep MPHA a popular and trustworthy organization. Nopalzin makes sure that everyone is getting paid and that the organization is in good economic standing. He budgets the events and has access to the company credit card that is used to buy materials that the organization needs.
On June 2, MPHA put on a beautiful breakfast that honored health equity champions. There were public health organizations from all over Massachusetts in attendance, and Governor Charlie Baker even spoke. MPHA raised nearly $10,000 at the event alone, and over $50,000 leading up to the event. All of this wouldn’t have been able to happen without the teamwork of everyone. Each small step of each team member creates a great accomplishment when they all work together. 
Governor Baker speaking at MPHA 15th Annual Spring Awards Breakfast.

MPHA and Social Justice

As a Health: Science, Society, and Policy (HSSP) major at Brandeis, I have learned and studied the health inequalities that are present within the United States. Two classes at Brandeis that I took that especially focused on this topic were “Health, Community, and Society” taught by Professor Peter Conrad, and “Sociology of Body and Health” taught by Professor Sarah Shostak. These classes caught my full attention when the topic of health inequality in the United States was brought up.

Both classes examined healthy food access and the consequences that arise when healthy and affordable food is not accessible. In “Health, Community, and Society,” I was given the task to interview various people about how they viewed their own health. I was given the flexibility to create the questions for the people I interviewed, so I focused my questions around food access and made sure that the people I interviewed were from a diverse array of socio-economic backgrounds. After conducting these interviews, I noticed that the ways in which people viewed their health tended to vary amongst socio-economic classes. People that I interviewed from a lower socio-economic class tended to feel that they had less control over their health compared to people from a higher socio-economic class. This is due to a lesser amount of opportunities to live a healthy lifestyle.

In “Sociology of Body and Health”, I was given the task to interview the person in charge of buying groceries from two different families. I interviewed my mother, whose home is located in a food swamp, and I interviewed my friend’s mother who lives in an affluent community. A food swamp is an area that has too much access to unhealthy and cheap food. These areas have a large amount of fast food restaurants in a small space and are generally found in low-income neighborhoods. This is much different than an affluent neighborhood that has less access to unhealthy food and greater access to healthy foods.

As you can probably imagine, the two interviews were drastically different. My mother focused more on foods being cost-effective and convenient, whereas my friend’s mother had the freedom to buy essentially anything that she wanted for her family. There are many grocery stores in her neighborhood and a Whole Foods nearby. Her neighborhood did not have nearly as many fast food options as my mother’s neighborhood which is swamped with options.

This is an example of a food swamp, an area swamped with unaffordable food options that are cheap and convenient.

My experiences interviewing people about health and food in these courses motivated me to obtain an internship with a focus on creating healthy and affordable food options for everyone. Thankfully, the Massachusetts Public Health Association focuses on just that. They have secured $6 million for the Massachusetts Food Trust Program, which “provides loans, grants, and technical assistance to support new and expanded healthy food retailers and local food enterprises in low and moderate income communities. This could include grocery stores, corner stores, farmer’s markets, mobile markets, community kitchens, food co-ops food truck commissaries, indoor and outdoor greenhouses, and food distribution hubs.” This is so important because what you put into your body plays a huge role in your health in the future. It is harder for some people to prevent diseases that happen due to poor diet (heart disease, diabetes, etc.), therefore it is necessary to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity of eating healthy and therefore preventing these diseases.

This map of Massachusetts shows the differences in access to grocery stores from city to city.

Since I have all of this previous knowledge that I gained at Brandeis, I am very excited to work with MPHA. I will have the opportunity to interview people about how MPHA has positively impacted their lives, and I am very excited to hear about the great things that MPHA has done for people in low-income communities in regards to unequal access to healthy and affordable food. Because of the knowledge that I’ve gained as an HSSP major, I will feel confident conducting these interviews and will have the ability to acquire answers and experiences from these people that will then be published for many to see and, hopefully, be inspired to participate in ending health inequalities.

Karen Caldwell ’18

First month at MPHA

I have been interning for the Massachusetts Public Health Association in Boston for over a month now and so far it has been a very fun and eventful experience. The Massachusetts Public Health Association (MPHA) is a non-profit organization aimed at creating health equity for everyone. They are aware of the social determinants of health, and that there are many people who have less access to a healthy lifestyle.

View from my desk

They address issues from low access to healthy and affordable foods, to unsafe streets. They have secured $6 million for the Mass Food Trust which aims to create more access to healthy and affordable food in food deserts/food swamps. This is what first drew me into this organization.

The problem of food deserts and food swamps is very personal to me, as I grew up in a food swamp. A food desert describes neighborhoods that have low access to a grocery store or supermarket. A food swamp, on the other hand, may have a nearby grocery store, but has too much access to unhealthy food. For instance, in my childhood neighborhood I can easily walk to McDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC, Burger King, etc. (less than a mile away), however the closest grocery store requires a car to get there. This results in overconsumption of unhealthy foods which leads to diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.  I like the idea of combating the problem where it starts (healthy food access) rather than only fighting the outcome (chronic disease).

Not only does MPHA aim to create greater access to healthy and affordable food, they also advocate for the Complete Streets Program which aims to make local roads “more walkable, bikeable, and viable for public transit users”. The staff members walk to the state house right across the street in order to attend rallies, go to hearings, deliver flyers to senators, etc. multiple times throughout the week.

For the first month of my time at MPHA, I agreed to help prepare for their 15th Annual Spring Awards Breakfast which took place on June 2nd. This breakfast is to honor health equity champions that have made great strides in the public health of Massachusetts. I helped to write press releases for the honorees, created posters, called potential guests, and more.

15th Annual Spring Awards Breakfast

Once the day of the breakfast came, I was so happy to have helped put it together because of how well it turned out. I was able to listen to the speeches of the honorees and felt truly inspired by their tireless work in their communities.

After the breakfast, my responsibilities changed to work on a story mining project. MPHA does really good work, although the positive i

Hearing on paid maternal/family leave

mpact on people that they have and their other accomplishments are not always effectively promoted as much as they’d like. Therefore, I am interviewing various people in Massachusetts so that I can write their stories to be published online and in print materials. When I’m not working on the story mining project, I go to the state house to attend hearings and rallies as well as provide assistance with data entry .

By the end of the summer, I hope that I will be able to effectively show the impact that MPHA has had throughout the Commonwealth.  I also hope to be more certain about what exactly I want to do in the public health field after I graduate from Brandeis.

Karen Caldwell, ’18