Working in conference and meeting rooms overlooking the meeting point between the Lake of the Arbuckles and the Arbuckle Mountains, the HealthCorps was finally together again.
HealthCorps, a national organization founded in 2003 by Dr. Mehmet Oz that focuses on providing schools and communities tools to improve physical and mental health, brought coordinators from across the nation together to the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center this week for its annual mid-year professional development conference. The coordinators, who are placed in high schools to work with students and community stakeholders, came together for the professional development, working through data, innovative ways to teach students and discussed research that will help them in the field.
Michelle Bouchard, president of HealthCorps, recalled the first time she visited with Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby about HealthCorps, she was amazed by the nation’s resilience and drive. Since that initial meeting, HealthCorps and the Chickasaw Nation have worked together to develop a common goal.
“I was just so amazed by all their accomplishments,” Bouchard said. “I’ve never seen anyone so laser focused on this mission of trying to bring health and wellness to the community.
“We specifically wanted to do our mid-year training here. They (Chickasaw Nation) very much epitomized what we teach at the HealthCorps.”
The meeting this week was the first time the HealthCorps has met in Oklahoma. The HealthCorps has training in the summer and a winter professional development meeting, which are conducted in different locations across the nation. Bouchard said she was very pleased to be able to have this year’s meeting in the Chickasaw Nation.
Twenty HealthCorps coordinators from eight states, ranging from Oklahoma and Florida to New York and California, gathered at the conference center and spent several hours everyday this week working together to determine how they can better connect with students, the community and provide the necessary tools to make a cultural impact at schools and in communities. Ardmore City Schools HealthCorps coordinator Lindsey Maurice-Walker and Tishomingo HealthCorps coordinator Erica Sun were among those that attended the conference.
Bouchard said the HealthCorps is built on the collaboration between entities in the community and the construction of long-term, achievable goals. Those goals and collaboration can then begin to break the cycle and potentially begin morphing the culture of a community to embrace healthy living across the board.
“It has to sustainable, actionable and measurable,” Bouchard said. “So what we’re trying to do with kids is not just give them the content but to really give them skills that they can use in their life so they’re informed by the content and they’re utilizing the skills.”
Bouchard knows each of the coordinators across the country personally, welcoming them with a smile and inquiring about their day each time she passed them in the conference center. The coordinators, Bouchard said, are on the front lines of public health and are the lifeblood of the goals HealthCorps is working toward.
“They’re rockstars,” Bouchard said. “They’re just amazing young people. They’re very focused. They have lost themselves in a cause greater than themselves and they’re people who want to change the world.
“They all know they want to make America a healthier place.”
Bouchard said a large majority of the coordinators, who work with the HealthCorps for two years, go on to medical school or to pursue a master’s degree in public health or nutritional.
While the HealthCorps coordinators, community stakeholders and school administration are seeing the fruits of the program’s labor, Bouchard said the HealthCorps is working toward obtaining research to also see the impact of the community collaboration. Currently, Dr. David Lounsbury, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, is working with the HealthCorps on conducting and developing research on their endeavors. Lounsbury also spoke during the conference and aided with the professional development of the coordinators.
Bouchard said the research will give the HealthCorps a picture of how their efforts are working in communities and how they can continue to provide the tools needed to change the culture of the nation.
“We’re wanting to move the macro, not just the micro,” she said. “We want to quantify and qualify that impact.”