Coordinator of the Month: Clare Parks
Name: Clare Parks
Hometown: I’ve moved around most of my life but spent the most time between Connecticut and South Carolina.
College Attended / Major: University of Notre Dame/ Psychology; Teachers College at Columbia University/ Health Education
HealthCorps School Placement: Washington Math Science and Tech PCHS, Washington, DC
Fun Fact: Before working at HealthCorps, I did a semester in Chilean Patagonia with the National Outdoor Leadership School where I spent 80 days living outside with a group of like-minded students and instructors. We mountaineered, sea kayaked, hiked, and drank maté with local farmers.
Jeffrey Hartinger: How did you become involved with HealthCorps?
Clare Parks: I went to grad school thinking I was going to spend my career researching how to enhance sexuality education programming for at-risk young women. When I got there, however, I (Clare Parks) learned that the most effective way to make a difference is not to force a health topic on a community just because I am passionate about it, but to go into a community, assess what’s urgently needed, and give everything I can to alleviate the issues at hand.
I realized I wanted applied experience with youth before I could commit myself to more school, so I started looking around for teaching positions. With its understanding of community health and the need for health in all policies, HealthCorps had everything I wanted in a job.
JH: What has been the highlight of your placement so far?
CP: Nothing makes me happier than exposing my students to completely new experiences and seeing their excitement. Last year, the two other health teachers and I took all students enrolled in health to the farmers’ market. They tried smoothies and salads, spoke to farmers about their produce, and spent time getting to know their food.
Several students were actually the first ever participants in DC’s Produce Plus program, where individuals enrolled in Food stamps/EBT or WIC are able to receive a $10 voucher for fruits and vegetables at the market. When one of my students smiled wide and used her voucher to buy shallots, broccoli, and spinach to cook with her mom, I officially declared that to be the best day of my life. I am filled with immense gratitude to HealthCorps for allowing me to facilitate that experience.
JH: Outside of the classroom, what are some of the activities that you are involved with?
CP: Last year I ran cooking club, fitness club, and morning meditation. Morning meditation continues to go strong this year for faculty and staff. My favorite new initiative, though, is our environmental health club or “Green Team” in partnership with a local nonprofit organization, Groundwork Anacostia River DC. Every Thursday, a representative from Groundwork greets 6-8 students and I at WMST to embark upon an environmental health adventure, whether it’s cleaning up the rivers, learning about recycling, or exploring career paths in environmental sciences.
We also have some Saturdays saved on our calendars for hiking, biking, canoeing, and camping trips as the year goes on. Last week, we visited the Washington Youth Garden in our first trip of a 3-part series: students planted beets and radishes, picked ripe tomatoes, sweet peppers, and parsley, and chopped up our veggies to make a tabbouleh with feta cheese and whole wheat pita pockets.
Soon, the students are going to begin their Green Team project, which they will create and coordinate on their own for the remainder of our meetings—many of them are interested in implementing a recycling and composting program.
JH: What do you plan to pursue after your service to HealthCorps is complete?
CP: Through working with HealthCorps, I have become very interested in community psychology, urban farming, and expanding food access to low-income neighborhoods. My idea of a precise plan is constantly in flux, but I hope to always have a service-oriented job where I can continue to learn and grow daily, play outside in the dirt with kids, and do the most I can with the skills and knowledge I’ve gained to improve the health of communities. I would love a career that allows me to make a broader impact on health policy, but I’d like to do it from down here in the trenches.
JH: What is one thing you have learned from your placement that you will be able to carry with you as you move forward in life?
CP: What you see in people affects how they perform and who they become—if you consistently choose to believe in people’s highest potential, they will rise to the challenge. Success to me means relentlessly believing in the power of students, coworkers, and myself to make a positive difference in whatever task is at hand.
A defeated attitude towards yourself or others will get you nowhere in this job, so when I move on, I hope to carry with me my unyielding willingness to believe that people can achieve anything they put their minds to.
We want to thank Clare Parks for her exceptional work and congratulate her for being this month’s coordinator of the month.