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Making Healthy Connections

Pharm.D. Student's Albert Schweitzer Fellowship Program Project Ties Wellness Education, Personal Development in Beading Class for Formerly Homeless 

April 27 – A UH College of Pharmacy student’s work introducing formerly homeless individuals to the therapeutic hobby of beading has not only allowed her to communicate advice for improving their health, but also a clearer path for her pharmacy career.

Pharm.D. student Erin Montejo’s interaction with the residents of New Hope Housing Inc., a Houston-based nonprofit permanent housing community, was through her participation in the nonprofit Albert Schweitzer Fellowship Houston-Galveston. Montejo learned about the beading project and the fellowship program through two UHCOP alumni who were responsible for starting and continuing the project into its second year. With Montejo’s watch, the beading class is now the longest-sustained project of the fellowship program.

"As a veteran, I have seen my friends and fellow veterans fall prey to homelessness," Montejo said. "I felt this project would be a great way to assist that vulnerable population within our community. The fellowship provides pharmacy students with an opportunity to explore the impact pharmacists can make in the public health arena."

Montejo said the project has solidified her desire to work with vulnerable populations in the future, such as at a Veteran Affairs Hospital or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service.

"The residents have inspired me with their resilience and positivity," Montejo said. "The project has been truly rewarding, especially when the residents are beaming with pride about the pieces that they have made.

"Many residents would come and make a piece of jewelry for their loved ones or as gifts for special occasions. One week, a particular resident stated that he had been looking forward to the class all week because he wanted to make a bracelet for his mom who had recently been hospitalized. It was statements like this that made me realize the impact the project was making on those in the community."

In addition to helping the residents hone their concentration, patience, fine motor and interpersonal skills, the activities provided a relaxing environment for presenting physical and mental health improvement counseling.

"I wanted to create a sense of community among the class attendees as well as build a rapport with the residents in order to build trusting relationships," Montejo said. "I felt that this was important to my goal of holding open forum-style healthy topic discussions. I wanted the classes and the discussion among the residents to be as natural as possible; however, as the weeks went by, I found my opportunity to insert applicable healthy tips and advice.

"For example, as the residents were talking, one of them mentioned that they really should quit smoking, so I gave a few quick tips of how to successfully initiate smoking cessation."

Montejo said the fellowship program’s emphasis on interprofessional/interdisciplinary interaction – among medical, nursing, dental, public health, social work and other degree programs – offers unique opportunities for students to both step outside of their peer comfort zones and reinforce their appreciation of each profession’s role in addressing health disparities in the community.

"All ASFHG fellows would have monthly meetings to discuss our project status, ways to improve areas of concern, and bond with one another," Montejo said.