Rebecca Lopez is collaborating with another Schweitzer Fellow from the Los Angeles program, Janelle Rodriguez, to create a health education and parenting curriculum for young parents in East Los Angeles that teaches CPR/First Response First Aid skills, and addresses the issues of safer sex and domestic violence. They have partnered with the AltaMed Adolescent Family Life Program to reach young, at-risk parents. Lopez, a mother of three and a student at the Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science, well understands what young parents face – she had her first child when she was just 15.
ASF: Why did you decide to develop your particular project?
RL: At the age of fifteen, while a sophomore in high school, I became a mother. I had always been fascinated by science and had dreams of being a doctor one day, but raising my daughter shifted my primary focus. As a result, my dreams of an education and career got put on the back burner. By the age of 24, I was mother to three daughters and a survivor of domestic violence. Over the years I have learned that many young women today, particularly in low socioeconomic areas, are also dealing with educational challenges and unhealthy relationship patterns and too often fall through the cracks of society. And the low expectations often cast upon the parenting adolescent population, serves as a means to perpetuate the cycle of low self-expectations that these young women feel. Through encouragement, opportunities, and resources, I feel that the vast potential that young mothers have to become great contributors to society can be developed.
After living through the challenges of being a teen mother and domestic violence victim, I decided to return to school to complete my college education. But this time the impetus behind reaching for a medical degree differed from my original inspirations; I was determined to address some of the difficult challenges faced by adolescent parents. I decided I was going to be the change in my community that would provide new resources for the pregnant and parenting adolescent community. With the assistance of my project partner, Janelle Rodriguez, we developed a series of workshops to tackle some of the challenges faced by teen parents every day. The topics of these workshops include CPR/First Response, domestic violence, and safe sex practices. In addition to providing resources, I hope to provide inspiration to teen parents to reach for their dreams, by sharing my own story of struggle and triumph.
ASF: What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?
RL: The whole premise of our project lies in the lasting impact that we hope to impart on the teen parents participating in the workshop series. Bringing awareness of issues within the adolescent parenting community and presenting workable solutions and resources to address these issues are the primary aim of our project. A prime example of a need within the parenting adolescent community is the alarming rate of infant deaths within the AltaMed teen parent program in recent years. The first response and CPR class that we provided as part of the project serves as a direct means of addressing this issue and is something that will potentially have lasting results in saving lives of children born to adolescent parents.
As part of our project, we have aimed to establish sustainable relationships between our project site, AltaMed Health Services, and our community partners in order to have an ongoing set of workshops. It is our desire to establish and facilitate the ongoing partnerships between our project site and community partners in order to sustain our efforts beyond our fellowship year. The lasting impact of the project has the potential to grow into other workshops that are needed within the teen parent community. Following each workshop, we are surveying the participants to identify and assess which topics and services are most needed. We are planning to use this information to establish curricula for future workshops.
ASF: What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?
RL: I feel that the lack of utilization of preventative health care resources is the most pressing health-related issue. The basis of this issue is multi-faceted and varies among communities. In some situations, it may be a lack of availability of preventative services while other situations may involve a lack of awareness of the existence of such services. Therefore, in order to effectively address the overall issue, it is important to identify the source of the issue for an individual community. There are three ways in which I feel this issue could be addressed. 1) Integration of preventative services into community organizations such as churches, schools and community centers. 2) Organization and provision of free community health fairs in which health care preventative topics and services are the focus. 3) Patient education on the importance of utilization of preventative services.
ASF: What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow?
RL: The overwhelming support of our project by community organizations. The passion that my partner and I share for this project has helped us to formulate the project itself, but to have the Schweitzer Fellowship approve our project gives our passion an indescribable validation that our project is an important contribution to our community. This translates to an even greater support from community partners/organizations and has helped to grow our project to an even larger scale than we had anticipated when we began.
ASF: What does being a Schweitzer Fellow (and ultimately a Schweitzer Fellow for Life) mean to you?
RL: Being a Schweitzer Fellow has given me a sense of confirmation that our project is a worthy and meaningful cause. Belonging to the Fellowship has opened doors to interact with my community and identify resources available to assist the community I wish to serve. I have learned so much from other Fellows and I know that I have made lifelong friends within the Schweitzer group. As a Schweitzer Fellow for Life, I know that I will always have a network of other professionals that have similar visions of instituting changes in their surrounding communities. I feel so blessed to be part of the Fellowship and I am excited with the potential of the lasting impact of this and future projects made possible through the network of Schweitzer Fellows for Life.
Click here to learn more about the Los Angeles Schweitzer Fellows Program and our work to develop leaders, create change, and improve health in vulnerable communities. We are supported entirely by charitable donations and grants.