In Their Own Words:
An Interview with Ruth Wise on Serving as a Community Health Worker Apprentice and Public Health AmeriCorps Member with Pueblo Department of Public Health Environment
In fall 2023, Trailhead Institute’s Program & Brand Narrative Manager Hannah Groves sat down with Ruth Wise learn more about her experience as a as a Community Health Worker (CHW) Apprentice and Public Health AmeriCorps Member with Pueblo Department of Public Health Environment (PDPHE).
Before becoming a CHW Apprentice and AmeriCorps Member, Ruth was working as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and was looking for a change. Despite uncertainty about what her new role in public health would entail, she took a chance and ultimately found herself on a new and unexpected career path, which she has plans to build upon and continue. Being part of the PDPHE team has ignited a newfound passion in Ruth. Seeing the smiles of the community she has helped and recognizing the necessary improvements needed in the community has motivated her to pursue a public health degree.
Hannah: Ruth, I appreciate your time and hearing about your experience as an AmeriCorps member. In what ways has your AmeriCorps experience helped you develop skills that are valuable in the field of public health? Are there any unexpected skills you’ve gained?
Ruth: I’ve learned about community engagement, research skills, facilitation, coding, and transcribing. I also learned goal setting, professionalism, and organization. Time management was a big one, since I did 10-hour days. I’d come in at 7:30 am – I didn’t like it, but I did it! I’ve also learned about public speaking and building relationships.
Hannah: Were any of those a surprise to you?
Ruth: Public speaking was surprising because I’m not really a people person. I like to stick to myself usually. Being able to talk to people and learn their stories helped me get out in the communities.
Hannah: That’s great! What specific projects or initiatives have you been involved in during your time with AmeriCorps?
Can you share a specific achievement or success story from your time in AmeriCorps that you are particularly proud of?
Ruth: I picked two projects to talk about here, harm reduction and OD2A, which is “Overdose Data to Action”. I went for both because they’re pretty alike, and I’ve been juggling both of them simultaneously. Doing this, I learned a lot more about my community and where I could pitch in to help. As I dived into harm reduction and OD2A, I became more acquainted with the place I live in, Pueblo, and the folks who are actively organizing within the community. This experience not only helped me understand my neighborhood better but also made me feel safer overall.
Hannah: So it sounds like a big achievement for you was getting out there and getting into your community! That’s definitely something to be proud of.
Can you share an impact that you made within your host organization? How did your strengths support their work?
Ruth: I got to work with a handful of programs across the department, helping out wherever I was needed. My peers have been really appreciative of what I’ve been doing: collecting surveys, giving out resources, organizing meetings, and so on.
Because of my work, staff were able to get their work done effectively and efficiently. Helping them was nice because I got to know about programs I didn’t even know existed. I did a lot of background work, preparing for events, printing tons of materials. Like, for OD2A and harm reduction, I made loads of Narcan folders for training sessions. Seriously, I must’ve made around 300-400 of them! My hands were tired from making all those folders and kits.
We put Narcan, gloves, hand sanitizer, and info inside these little kits. We’ve been training nonprofit places and even schools to carry them. Our aim is to get all staff members equipped with these kits. I just love helping out and caring for people. It’s in my nature to take care of things.
Hannah: I can see the little sparkle in your eye when you talk about helping these programs and making people’s lives easier.
How has this program shaped your long-term career goals, aspirations or interests within the field?
Ruth: This program has really changed my perspective. It’s given me a ton of experience working with the community, and guess what? I’ve found my passion for public health through it. Recently, I enrolled at Grand Canyon University to get my bachelor’s degree in public health. I can see myself continuing down this path, maybe even becoming a health promotion specialist or something in the public health field.
You know, my motivation to help people comes from a deep belief that everyone deserves help, no matter who they are. My in-laws and my husband were the ones who encouraged me to go back to high school, and I did it. I graduated in 2018, even though I was pregnant and working at the time. It was tough, but I managed to pull through.
After high school, I tried college, but it didn’t work out. I dabbled in cosmetology and even tried another school, but life got messy. Those times I was in school were hard for me, but I pushed through. I want to be the first one in my family to go to college. I want a better life for my family and myself. I don’t want my kids to go through what I did—struggling, always hungry, missing out on sports and stuff. I missed out on so much growing up, and I don’t want the same for my kids. Working here has inspired me to pursue my public health degree. It’s a big dream, but hey, I’m ready to chase it!
Hannah: Thank you for sharing your story! I’m so excited to see where you go.
Looking ahead, what advice would you offer to future AmeriCorps members considering a career in public health or community service?
Ruth: You know, one thing I’ve learned is how important communication is. One of my pet peeves is when people don’t communicate, because what if I do something wrong and nobody communicated, you know what I mean? It’s important because you never know what kind of connections you or someone else might need.
I’ve also adopted a positive attitude toward everyone. I believe everyone deserves kindness, no matter what they’re going through. And it can also help them, too, at the end of the day.
Hannah: Such great advice!
Ruth concluded the conversation by encouraging others who may be interested in a public health career to do their best and utilize opportunities to explore their options. She found the program well-worth the effort and encountered success and motivation for the future.
We would like to extend our gratitude to our partners at the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment whose partnership has been instrumental as a host site for Colorado Public Health Works. To learn more about innovative efforts to energize Colorado’s new and evolving public health workforce, visit www.trailhead.institute/workforce-programs-initiatives.