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Just inside the Allied Wellness Center’s doors on Madison’s southwest side, you’ll find information about support groups, piles of bus passes for the taking, a children’s play area and, most of the time, Gloria Manadier-Farr. She’s worked at the center since 2008, first as a chaplain, and she is now as the center’s only paid staff member. She dedicates her life to community services and says it hurts her soul when she has to watch people be denied basic necessities like toilet paper, diapers and transportation.
In the Allied Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood — one of the most densely populated and racially diverse areas in Madison — she helped expand a community “essential pantry” (offering razors, toothbrushes and other personal items) and helped organize the center’s first health fair. She also fostered a new specialized layer of support with the creation of the Community Health Workers in training. The group consists of 10 female volunteers who go to the homes of neighbors and offer assistance in any way they can. They drive people to doctor’s appointments, provide spiritual guidance, check blood pressure and help secure money for bills. Manadier-Farr calls the Community Health Workers in training program volunteers the first responders, meaning they’re who community members turn to when in need.
In an edited Q&A with Manadier-Farr and a few door-to-door volunteers, we learned more about this boots-on-the-ground wellness effort.
How do the Community Health Workers in training make a difference in the Allied neighborhood?
They empower individuals to self-regulate, to take care of their lives, be in the front seat and be the driver of their own car. In our community, these are the individuals seen by the police, the fire department or poison control. These are the individuals who are the bridge so that the customer can connect to health providers. These people are the bridge so that anyone can cross over and connect. There is no bridge right now. A lot of people don’t go to appointments because they don’t have a CHW to advocate for them, to intervene for them, to speak on their behalf. Now they do in the Allied neighborhood.
What do you hope for the future of this program?
This is a test pilot of what can be done in a community. My hope is that once we complete this pilot, we can bring this service to another community. Walk with them, help them get it set up and watch this thing grow. That means others can do it for their community, they can have people that are being their bridge and walk with them. My vision is to see this program move because it wasn’t created just for here. I’d like us to take the program to other parts of Madison. We have sisters and brothers who live in different parts of Madison. I know they’d like to see this happen in their community and I want to be able to support them, too.
What is a challenge for you or the wellness center?
We are small. If you can imagine all the stuff that we are doing — and I supposedly only work 20 hours a week. There are times that we can’t even afford it if it weren’t for Allied partners and churches like Nehemiah Fountain of Life Church covering for us, paying for bus tickets and copayments, for example. The money we get from the city is for my 20 hours a week. If we don’t go after grants, if we don’t get donations, we don’t stand.
Addressing Wellness Face-to-Face
Hear directly from three of Allied Wellness Center’s door-to-door volunteers — Carmella Harris, Donna Waller and Kimberly Stalling.
Can you describe a home visit?
KS: Basically, you are there [to give] them a better quality of life. Being a support system, helping set up doctor follow-up appointments — things of that nature. I ask them, “How can I be your support system?” It is important to bond with your people. There are lasting relationships that we build with clients.
CH: You’re able to go into their home and find out where they are struggling and create an action plan for them to reduce some issues. Sometimes it is not always health. You go there and maybe they haven’t eaten, they are having trouble with their gas bill, they need cleaning done or they need some errands run. As a Community Health Worker in training, we are there to assist them where they need a little more help.
What do you want the community to get out of this program?
DW: When we go out in the community and residents see us, I want them to feel like they are safe. If anything were to happen, I want the community members to know what to do, how to do it and how far they can go and cannot go. I hope to pass all that I’ve learned onto the community.
What do you get out of this work?
DW: We learn a lot doing this type of work. You learn how to take care of others and ourselves. You’re helping somebody that you don’t even know, and when something comes up, at least you know the basics of helping them until other help comes.
CH: It is very fulfilling for me. I find myself answering calls as late as midnight from a client.
Mackenzie Krumme is a Madison writer and a former intern at Madison Magazine
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