Volunteer Voice: Healthy Communities Make Change Possible

My name is Kayla, I’m in my Junior year of the Public Health program at American University, and this semester I am a volunteer at Dance Exchange. This is my second time participating in AU’s Community Service Learning Program, which has allowed me to explore my academic and professional interests through getting to know some amazing organizations, and people that make up the community here in the DC Metro area. This semester I chose to connect the work that I am doing at Dance Exchange with a Public Health course I am currently taking. At first, the relation between this organization and Public Health was not obvious but, after doing a Fair Trade study abroad program in Ecuador during the Fall of 2016, the value of community and identity to health has not intrigued me more.

Over the past few months, I have been anticipating a specific project Dance Exchange invited me to be present for. This April, Dance Exchange partnered with Brookside Gardens Nature Center in Silver Spring, Maryland to bring together science education and movement. The program – called The Moving Field Guide – wrapped-up just last-week, and I gained so much insight about how dance, and understanding of ourselves within the environment can work hand in hand.

I chose to work with Dance Exchange for the Community Service Learning Program this semester, not only because I rediscovered a love for dance, but also because this program allows me to support an innovative organization with holistic values, and a drive to make change. Over the course of the past couple of months, I have learned that the local Dance Exchange is a non-discriminating space for people to come to together and practice diverse forms of dance from an array of backgrounds. Beyond locally, Dance Exchange finds itself in different settings around the country, embodying the ways in which place and community co-exist.

Thinking about the context of health that most people here in the United States are familiar with; hospitals, dieting and health insurance may be some of the major features that come to mind. However, topics like the social determinants of health, cultural competence, and increasing psychological health crises such as loneliness have been some of the most interesting and relevant to learn about in my Public Health studies. These topics have prompted me to think in-depth about the ways in which factors like neighborhood, education and sense-of-self contribute to the overall condition of population health. In these explorations, the importance of alternative approaches to public health – such as community gardening, arts for social change, and educational programming – becomes increasingly apparent. I believe that these outlets have the potential to alleviate great public health burdens such as depression, malnutrition, sedentary lifestyles and hate.

Although community service is one way that I do my part, I also value service for the exchanged reminder that I am part of an ecology. Through embodiment of that physical reality, it is nearly impossible to ignore the ways in which health – both internal, and external, individual and community – is influenced by a multitude of factors.

Kayla Gangemi is an American University student studying Public Health, and she is a volunteer at Dance Exchange.

About Guest Blogger

Dance Exchange intern and/or guest blogger.