Alumni Highlight: Erica Rodas
Erica Rodas served at Aviation High School – Sunnyside, Queens, NY, from 2009-2011. She received a B.A. in Communications from Boston College and M.S. in Occupational Therapy at Tufts University.
What did you do after HealthCorps? What are you doing now because of HealthCorps? What do you plan to do in the future?
After HealthCorps, I decided to go back to graduate school for occupational therapy. I had really connected with my small group and individual work, and considered social work but ultimately found OT to be a great bridge between the physical and more psychosocial stuff. Four years later, I’ve just started working at a private practice that treats patients with breast, head and neck cancer.
I love incorporating my interest in mindfulness and breath work, as well as some of the postural alignment principles such as Pilates and general functional movement. I hope to delve more and more into this work in the coming decade, particularly as more people are surviving cancer diagnoses, but living with chronic pain or dysfunction. There is a gap in services that really needs to be addressed, and I’m excited to be a part of that.
What was the greatest lesson you learned about creating change in health and wellness in your time with HealthCorps?
One of the main takeaways from HealthCorps was that you have to meet people where they’re at. You can’t go in and act like “the expert,” and you have to make sure that whatever message you’re trying to get across is relatable to that person’s life. How does it fit into their daily routine? What meaning does it have for them? You have to start here in order to create even the smallest shift.
What was your favorite moment or memory with a student, staff or community member during your time as a HealthCorps Coordinator?
My favorite memories revolve around student-led groups, whether Teen Battle Chef or Sister Circle. Whether within a smaller group setting or at a school-wide health fair, it was amazing to see students add their own flair and personality, and to see where they could take things– which at times far exceeded what had been planned.
How are you currently taking what you learned from HealthCorps and using it in your professional life now?
Education is key to the way that I practice. I need to make sure that my patient and/or his/her family understand what factors are at play in their rehab, and that they can ultimately own this as their own caretaker. I also try to link a lot of things to breath and meditation, something that was first introduced to me by Alan Wherry and Sahaja Meditation so many years ago. The way Alan and all of the Sahaja volunteers were able to sit with our students — literally and figuratively — is something I so admired, and also try to employ.
I find that often those in middle of injury or a diagnosis just need a space to be validated or to land. And whether that’s sitting with them, listening, offering a quiet space, or letting them unwind their anxiety of what a particular diagnosis might mean for them, you meet them there. I always thought the word “coordinator” was so fitting at HealthCorps, in trying to make connections for people — whether within themselves or within their communities. I try to act in that same way too as an OT — pulling on people’s strengths, and helping them see connections that already exist.
Do you have any additional reflections to share about how your time as a Coordinator has influenced you?
HealthCorps was an incredible time for me in that it’s the last time I was a part of a passionate group of people who were all putting themselves outside of their comfort zone, consistently. I remember a coordinator Alvin Chan once said something about how if you weren’t uncomfortable, you weren’t doing it right. And I think about this still, as I piece through my career and figure out which next steps to take — that you really only hit the sweet spot just outside of that comfort zone. I try and remember what Rob Roberts said once too; there is a lot of value in just showing up. Ten minutes early, of course. 🙂