Albert Schweitzer Fellows Continue to Embody Leadership Through Service In the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Jasmine E. Crenshaw; April 24, 2020

Embodying Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s Mission

As Dr. Albert Schweitzer once said, “Hope is renewed each time that you see a person you know, who is deeply involved in the struggle of life, helping another person. You are the unaffected witness and must agree that there is hope for mankind. And those who are not so tied down to the struggle for existence — who are freer — must give the example of service.” This quote perfectly captures the moment we are currently living in due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals and different groups/communities are assisting their fellow citizens with what they have — time, money, and energy — to help ease their stress and burdens. 

Our Fellows and Fellows for Life can be included in that number. Across the nation, current Schweitzer Fellows have been pivoting their original projects into providing essential services for those who are affected by the coronavirus pandemic in the communities they serve. 

Here is a list of the Fellows’ current project plans, as told by their chapter directors. 

Projects, by Chapter

ASF of Alabama

  • In order to support teachers and students during this time, Alabama Schweitzer Fellows Edgar Soto and Rachel Tindal, both MS2s in the UAB School of Medicine, plan to work with Birmingham Education Foundation to build a network of volunteers to offer 1-on-1 tutoring, lead small group enrichment sessions, assist teachers in navigating distance learning resources, and provide virtual extracurriculars in the arts and sciences for students in Birmingham City Schools. They are engaging their peers in the UAB School of Medicine as well as their 2019 and 2020 Alabama Schweitzer Fellow cohorts to provide these services. 
  • Additionally, another 2019 ASF Fellow, Jason Perry, has connected his peers in the counseling department at the University of Montevallo to help provide mental and emotional support services, as well. 

ASF Houston-Galveston

  • The new 2020-21 Houston-Galveston Schweitzer Fellows have not begun their projects yet. However, all are adjusting their project content and goals to adapt to their populations, and how COVID-19 has impacted them.
  • The current 2019-2020 cohort, who are about to become Fellows for Life, have stepped into servant leadership roles, highlighting that as Fellows they have learned what we have taught them; to be servant leaders, to look for where the gaps in care are, to identify needs, and then step forward and lead others along with themselves, to address those challenges, gaps and needs. Our Fellows, during this pandemic, are sewing masks, mobilizing other groups to sew masks, coordinating drop off and pick up zones for PPE to get to clinics and hospitals and essential businesses. They are offering online tutoring to vulnerable and impacted families who need educational support during the time of remote learning. They are volunteering with local food banks and pantries to pack groceries of free fruits and vegetables and staples, and they are delivering them. They are making hundreds of reassuring phone calls to homebound seniors and other isolated families who need and want information and support. They are designing mental health workshops online. They are resource mapping East Harris County, an area in dire need of resources and support. The Fellows are showing the Schweitzer spirit of service to others, compassionate care and doing wonderful things … and hopefully others will imitate it! 

ASF New Hampshire – Vermont

  • New Hampshire-Vermont Schweitzer Fellows Akua Frimpong and Niv Badrinarayanan are currently organizing a Q/A session on COVID-19 for their high school student program participants, who have questions, concerns or simply general anxiety about the pandemic. The Fellows thought it might be a good idea to organize a Q/A session for their students as a way to help ease their concerns. They plan on inviting a Schweitzer mentor, Dr. Andrea Green, to be one of the speakers at the session.
  • Badrinarayanan, along with NHV Fellow Cyrus Thomas Walker,  are part of a group at Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont who have started a website called Medical Student COVID Action Network (MSCAN), which documents student volunteering efforts going on all over the country; they are also working on expanding to DO sources as well. 

Dallas-Fort Worth Schweitzer Fellowship

The incoming 2020-2021 Dallas-Fort Worth Schweitzer Fellows are in the early phases of project planning and are actively adjusting their projects to best meet the needs of communities throughout Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW). 

  • Originally planning a food pantry on campus at Paul Quinn College, 2020 DFW Schweitzer Fellow Rhonda Hodge is now planning on deliveries to local students, as well as sewing reusable masks, which will be included with food deliveries. Hodge is also collaborating with Justin Barringer, a DFW Fellow for Life, to provide her reusable masks to families who are receiving diapers from his diaper pantry in far East Dallas.

The 2019-2020 DFW Schweitzer Fellows have moved their projects to online platforms. Highlights include:

  • 2019 DFW Schweitzer Fellow Leah Carter has led a healthy eating and positive self-image group for middle school girls. She has now moved her meetings online, allowing the girls to reconnect with one another. She is also working with the girls to help them better understand why social distancing has been put in place and help them work through the stress and questions they have about the pandemic. Carter has also been actively involved with food distributions for families with students at a Fort Worth high school and distributions from the food pantry at her partner site.
  • Originally focused on providing people who are undocumented with information and assistance with safely accessing health care, 2019 DFW Schweitzer Fellow Isabel Garcia has transitioned to providing training for case managers throughout Texas about safe access to care for people who are undocumented, including best practices. She is also compiling resources about accessing COVID tests for people who are uninsured.
  • 2019 DFW Schweitzer Fellow Merin John has coordinated with her site to set up a laptop for virtual one-on-one smoking cessation and stress management consultations at Union Gospel Mission’s Center of Hope shelter for women. 
  • Justin Barringer, a DFW Fellow for Life, has transitioned his diaper pantry, which began as a Schweitzer Fellowship project, to weekly drive-through pickups, continuing to distribute 10,000-12,000 diapers to families in need monthly. He is also working with Rhonda Hodge, a 2020-2021 DFW Schweitzer Fellow, to include reusable masks for families with the diaper distributions.
  • 2019 DFW Schweitzer Fellow Jeffrey Li is collaborating with UT Southwestern medical students from each class to organize volunteer opportunities for medical students to fill gaps in services throughout organizations in Dallas. 

Detroit Schweitzer Fellowship

  • Detroit Schweitzer Fellow Ashleigh Peoples originally planned a home-based fall-prevention and health assessment project to serve low-income families in the city. This project may still be possible, depending on how the pandemic is resolved. In the meantime, she has joined the Senior Housing Preservation – Detroit coalition to support its efforts to meet the emergency needs of 3,000 seniors in low income high rise apartments in the downtown/midtown area. Her specific intervention will be to organize a wellness call program, involving student volunteers. This service should identify specific needs, which will be addressed by the coalition’s service network.
  • Detroit Schweitzer Fellow Jeneen Ali was prepared to develop a nutrition education program for low-income pregnant women, in conjunction with a local food provider. Because the project involves virtual support components, she will develop those, as well as work with a childhood obesity coalition to support development of a food security network in the city, which currently does not exist.
An image featuring a quote from Dr. Albert Schweitzer that perfectly conceptualizes how individuals are helping each other during the coronavirus pandemic.

Educational Opportunities

In addition to the project pivots, Fellows and Fellows for Life across the nation have been able to become more knowledgeable about the pandemic through monthly webinars. Beginning in late March 2020, the three-part webinar series, entitled “Sparking Our Leadership During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Schweitzer Fellowship Approach”,  focused on how Fellows and Fellows for Life could strengthen their public health leadership skills during the coronavirus pandemic. Notable public health and medical professionals, including Dr. Lachlan Forrow, the current President of the National ASF Board of Directors and a palliative care physician; Dr. Linda Rae Murray, the former president of the American Public Health Association and the former medical chief officer of Cook County Department of Health; and Dr. Erica Pan, a Fellow for Life and the Interim Health Officer at the Alameda County Public Health Department, were the guest speakers for the webinar series.