New York Alumni Council Roundtable: Part I

On a recent Friday night, three Peer Health Exchange alumni from our New York City site gathered for a roundtable discussion about all things PHE. Karina, Faiyaz, and Maverick aren’t just any alumni, though: Maverick James is a founding co-chair of the PHE NYC Alumni Council and, having stepped down in June, elevated Karina Krainchich and Faiyaz Rahman to co-chairs for the 17-18 year. When they aren’t running the PHE NYC Alumni Council, Karina is an alumna of Fordham University, where she served as a PHE co-coordinator and education coordinator for the Brooklyn Arts Council. Faiyaz is currently working as a medical scribe and applying to medical school; he served on the Leadership Council as an undergraduate at Hunter College. Maverick, also a Hunter College alumnus, is about to begin his second year at New York Law School and interns with a federal district judge in Brooklyn.

PHE Alumni Council members

PHE Alumni Council members, including Maverick , Karina, and Faiyaz, after the April Alumni Council meeting.


Maverick: I loved teaching and I thought I wanted to go into teaching professionally. So when I learned about PHE, I thought it would be a great way to get some experience teaching. I really loved the structure of how you get to pick what workshops you go to and schedule workshops on Fridays, [which I had free].

Once I started teaching, I found every single time that I interacted with PHE; it was something amazing and beneficial to me. There’s something so rewarding about going to the different areas of the city that I had never been to; it was so exciting to go to different high schools, meeting with different students and hearing their ideas to teach them about how their bodies function. It was great to provide some type of education that matters to them.


Faiyaz: PHE is the glue for [former volunteers] to communicate with the organization and school representatives. They can use our council as means by contributing.

Maverick: So I was really happy to see that Alumni Council [opportunity] was available. It wasn’t teaching directly, but it was an awesome way to be a part of an organization that I love and use the skills that I learned with PHE–time management and program development–and bring it to a group that can support the substance of PHE, its mission and health education.


Karina: One of the big reasons I wanted to join the Alumni Council is it was an opportunity to stay involved with the organization and give back to the organization – building relationships with people and trying to create a community of people with a similar experience, similar passions, and interests. Having the Alumni Council is a resource for the alumni.

We’re giving back to PHE, but we’re getting something too. We’re having fun and we’re learning new things. There’s always a new leadership position and tons of new skills such as communicating with people, getting people excited, figuring out what do people want, and how can we reach our audience and connect to all of these alumni out there.

Maverick: The Alumni Council is a place where we can expand on the work that we do at PHE and the different roles we’re at now, professional development, helping volunteers get more out of their experience.

One of the Council’s newest initiatives is supporting volunteers’ transportation to workshops across New York City. Members contribute the cost of a roundtrip MetroCard, or $5.50, each month. Throughout the year, the NYC Alumni Council hosts social events and public meetings, and alumni from any PHE site currently living in New York City (or the surrounding area) are welcome to join! If you would like to support the Alumni Council, you can do so here.

If you’re interested in joining the Alumni Council, please contact Taylor Gramps for more information.

Be on the lookout for the more from this roundtable discussion.


Posted in Alumni Profile, Peer Health Exchange, PHE NY, Uncategorized

Young People and the Impact of Community Violence and the Healthcare Bill

Day in and day out, young people – especially black, brown, and LGBTQ young folks – experience horrendous violence against themselves and their communities. Nabra Hassan was just 17 when she was killed. Jaquarrius Holland was just 18. Both were not much older than the young people we engage in PHE’s workshops. Maybe they would have been PHE volunteers if they had made it to college. June 25th would have been Tamir Rice’s 15th birthday. The list of young people falling victim to senseless violence goes on and on.

This relentless violence and discrimination creates acute and chronic stress for black, brown, and LGBTQ young people, which leads to an avalanche of negative health outcomes.

At the same time, too many doors to resources are being shut. The most recent Senate healthcare bill could leave millions without insurance. It seeks to defund Planned Parenthood, one of the few places where LGBTQ young folks can get LGBTQ-friendly healthcare, no matter where they live. And it would discontinue required Medicaid support for mental health services in 2019.

We need your help to show up for young people now. Speak out against violence in these communities. Talk to your friends and family about how to voice your opinions on healthcare legislation. Support PHE and other youth-serving organizations any chance you get.


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A Conversation with PHE Bay Area volunteers: Alissa & Smitha

(Pictured from left to right: PHE Volunteer Dolly Nunez, Vice President of External Affairs Emily Gasner Medress, CEO & Co-Founder Louise Langhieier, PHE Volunteers Alissa Stauffer and Smitha Gundavajhala)

Meet Alissa Stauffer and Smitha Gundavajhala. Alissa is a rising senior at San Francisco State University where she is double majoring in Communications and Criminal Justice. She volunteered with Peer Health Exchange as a Health Educator, Co-Coordinator and Leadership Council Member. Smitha graduated from the University of California—Berkeley where she studied Public Health. While there, she served as a Senior Health Educator and contributed to volunteer relations on campus as a Community Relations Coordinator.

Earlier this month, we were fortunate to bring these two together to hear about their workshop experiences.


Smitha Gundavajhala: One of the things I saw happen during my time with PHE is a shift from a really content-heavy curriculum. This is really key in bringing in young people as partners in working towards creating this health education that is for them with them. When they go on to make decisions about their health beyond PHE, it has a lasting impact in shaping the agency that young people have.

Alissa Stauffer: With the PHE model, it works well with young people because we present so many scenarios for students of all types to be engaged. It’s a very flexible way of educating the students; it can work for visual learners and hands-on learners.


AS: I made a connection with a student that would sit in the back, was very withdrawn and never opened her workbook. I was able to build a connection with her by showing her that I actually cared about her. I’d ask about her personal life and what she likes to do outside of school, use her name, spend time with her, and remember these facts about her every time she came in.

 Over a couple of workshops, there was a complete change. She was more engaged, she became one of the students that spoke the most by the end of the workshops. She would stay a little bit afterwards when the workshops were over to chat. I was able to use the skills that PHE helped me developed to bring her out of her shell and show that it’s a safe, fun environment.


SG: I was teaching a workshop about accessing resources [that discusses] how to make an appointment at a clinic and how to get there. I presented a scenario in which a young person with mental health challenges wants to make an appointment to see a clinician but we know that their dad would disapprove. At this point, there was a little bit of discomfort, which is fair because it’s not an easy situation.

I shared my own story with mental health; I had to overcome cultural barriers as a South-Asian American. It was hard for my family to understand exactly what mental health was and they took it personally. I had to seek out treatment on my own. If you don’t get support when you need it, it can become more serious in the future. Those kinds of conversations break down the stigma. Learning those communications skills can come in handy for young people, and I’m proud that I was able to use my own experience to apply the lesson.


AS: I asked the class a question to refocus their energy. I asked the classroom “what do you need before two people can engage in sexual activity?” Everyone looked around, sort of nervous to answer and then I prompted, “It begins with the letter ‘C’.” Seriously, all of their eyes lit up and there was a huge eruption of young people shouting out, “Condoms!” “Consent!” “Consequences!” “Caring!”

That made me realize how much they understood the material. In that moment, I could see how fun the material is.


AS: PHE has helped me identify my individual strengths. I used to think that I could come off negative, aggressive, and bossy so I was try to suppress those traits. Through PHE, I really came into my own and channeled those characteristics. My management and communications skills, persistence, and confidence can be put to use in the work that I want to do and what I want to accomplish.

I will look back on the training which opened my eyes to issues that I thought I was well-informed about but wasn’t. Just better understanding power, privilege, and oppression fuels me to make change and impact more people. It pushes me to achieve more in the future and center my life around those goals.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see how our current volunteers empower young people to make health decisions.

Posted in Alumni Profile, Peer Health Exchange, PHE Bay Area Tagged with: , , , , ,

Join PHE Boston’s Volunteer Alumni Committee

Did you serve as a PHE volunteer health educator, in Boston or another city? We are hard at work creating a network of connected alumni across the country. PHE Boston has created its first official group, the PHE Boston Alumni Community, and selected a leadership council: Rhiannon Pabich (BU 2014, Chair), Jasmine Bland (Tufts 2015, Outreach Committee Leader), Christine Lichwala (BU 2015, Fundraising Committee Leader), Sarah Reed (Tufts 2015, Volunteer Engagement Leader), and Victoria Smith (Northeastern 2014, Alumni Engagement Leader).

The PHE Boston Alumni Community aims to strengthen the alumni connection to PHE and each other, support our work to provide effective health education to young people, and provide fun and meaningful alumni activities. This group is open to all PHE alumni. The next Alumni Community General Meeting will take place on June 20, 2017, 6:30-8:00pm at 745 Atlantic Avenue, Room 7E. Attendance is free of charge. Please email by Friday, June 16 if you would like to attend. The group will begin planning their August fundraiser and other events, including networking and service activities. We hope to see you there.

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Host Teacher Spotlight: Commander Matthew Sturges

At PHE Boston, our success teaching ninth grade students about their mental health, sexual health, and substance abuse is dictated not only by our college volunteer health educators, but also by our partners within the school system. We could not do this important work without them!

We recently asked Commander Matthew Sturges, teacher at John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science in Roxbury, for his thoughts on the PHE Boston program:

“Peer Health Exchange reaches out and connects with students in a critical time in their life. This is a program that has mentors not much older than the freshmen students themselves. The students listen to these college mentors because they see themselves in their shoes in a few years, and they like what they see. High school students want to be viewed as informed, chic, and knowledgeable. Peer Health provides that opportunity and gives students the knowledge to make smart decisions concerning their mental health and physical health.

I like the diversity of topics [in PHE]. Every week is new; the topics are relevant to freshmen. Many times the topics are so timely that students share stories that have either happened to them or a friend that very day. When I see students interacting with PHE lessons in a positive way I truly believe Peer Health is having an impact. I’m delighted to see O’Bryant students asking tough, direct questions and seeing the mentors answering the questions directly in the student’s own vernacular.

The topic that [I believe] has a high impact with students is the advocacy lesson on harassment. After that lesson I had students coming up to me and in some cases reading to me mean spirited texts sent on social media. Social media is such a part of a teenager’s life that they need strategies on how to handle rejection, ridicule or embarrassment by an acquaintance, a friend or an adult. Peer Health provides ways to handle the stress.”

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PHE Boston Congratulates Volunteer Co-Coordinators

On April 24, 2017, PHE Boston’s college volunteer health educator leaders, the “Co-Coordinators” (or CC’s), celebrated the close of the 2016-2017 academic year with a dinner hosted by PHE Boston Board Member Janet Nahirny in Chestnut Hill, MA. Co-Coordinators are essential to the Peer Health Exchange model, helping organize, train, and lead Boston’s other 270 volunteer health educators at Harvard, Tufts, Northeastern, and Boston University. This year, under their leadership, PHE Boston successfully operated in 17 schools in Boston, Malden, Lynn, and Revere, and hosted 990 health education workshops.

This year is PHE Boston’s 10th Anniversary, and we will present a total of 10 PHE Star Awards to individuals during this special time. Each of our CC’s received a PHE Star Award at the celebration dinner. They are: Michelle Smith, Siva Subramanian, Paige Clabby, Jason Shaffer, Sarah Grimmett.

Congratulations CC’s, and thank you for your remarkable leadership and service!

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Peer Health Exchange Disapproves of House-Passed American Health Care Act

With our partners, Peer Health Exchange aims to advance health equity and improve health outcomes for young people. PHE stands with organizations like the School-Based Health Alliance in expressing our deep concern about the House passing the American Health Care Act (AHCA). If signed into law, the AHCA could endanger millions of young people and their ability to access health care. In particular, we are disappointed to see that under the AHCA, Medicaid and individual market providers could eliminate substance use and mental health treatment from coverage. Medicaid restructuring could also jeopardize students’ ability to access critical health services in school-based health centers.

We urge you to show up for the young people in your city who deserve access to the health resources and services they need to live healthy lives.

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PHE Alumni Spotlight: Nico Gusmán

Meet Nicole “Nico” Gusmán, a first year graduate student at the Yale School of Public Health Social Behavioral Sciences Department. Before pursing her in the Master’s of Public Health for social welfare, she volunteered with Peer Health Exchange during her undergraduate years at the University of California-Berkeley from 2009 to 2012. She went on to volunteer and work with AmeriCorps as a health educator. She wants to take what she learned and applied as a volunteer beyond the classroom to find population-based solutions, specifically to increase access to emergency contraceptives. Learn how Gusmán is using technology to reduce barriers for young people.


I found out about [PHE] around campus and I thought it sounded like a great idea. Health education was not really a part of my experience when I was going through high school and I knew that I was really interested in creating healthier and happier communities. I was studying social welfare at the time, so when I learned about the health education and peer education, I gave it a try and I loved it.


I knew I wanted a career where I could help people live better lives and contribute something to make the world better. I never thought about health education as a way to do that until I learned about Peer Health Exchange and tried it out.

I loved teaching health education, especially sexual reproductive health education. After I graduated, I dabbled in different fields but nothing felt like anything I wanted to continue doing for a long time. Then I met up with a friend who had been a volunteer with me at Berkeley, and she encouraged me to become a health educator with AmeriCorps in the Bay area.

Now I’m getting my Master’s Degree at Yale to translate research into evidence-based interventions and create more sustainable program models around things like health education. PHE determined where I went with my social welfare degree.


We’re creating a technology that’s hopefully going to help adolescents and transitional aged youth successfully access emergency contraceptives. The answer to the question, “where can I get emergency contraception” is different depending on your state of residence, your age, your sex, your confidentiality needs, how much money you have, your insurance, [etc].

When I was a Health Educator it would depend on different things like the time of the day or the day of the week, which free clinics were open and whether someone could get on a bus or had their own car. Even today, seeing the changes to the ACA and health insurance in the United States, the answer to the question might be scrambled for people. In addition to the barriers, there’s conscience clauses in some states that allow pharmacists to refuse to medication like emerging contraceptives based on their personal beliefs and not on medical or professional concerns.

When we’re thinking about teens, especially lower income teens, they have special barriers and considerations: limited transportation, little to no disposable income, age-based discrimination. That is coupled with limited experience dealing with medical institutions, insurance, and public programs on their own with little autonomy over their schedules.

We’re creating Easy EC, a solution for Android/iOS smartphones and/or a website that will look and operates as an application. After answering a few questions about their gender, age and location; we get people to the places where they can get emergency contraceptives based on their situation and even provide them with a script to make it as easy as possible.

We’re hoping to release it by next summer.


Despite the resources that we have in the United States, unintended pregnancy is still higher than other developed countries. Teen birth rates are also substantially higher. Reducing unintended pregnancies is a national public health issue, it’s a part of the Healthy People 2020 campaign because the health, social and economic benefits are well-documented.

If we’re looking at lowering the amount of unintended pregnancies, we’re not looking at the women using contraceptives consistently and correctly, we’re looking to the women who don’t have something like that in place. Teens tend to use less effective methods or inconsistently than adult women so it’s just really important that access to emergency contraceptives is easier for those women, especially teen women.

I loved PHE because it allowed me to be creative and interact with young people, and be challenged. I felt like I was actually contributing to making the world a better place. Health education was something that I not only enjoy, but that I was good at too. I’m studying so I can transition out of the classroom to more population-based issues. I took that experience beyond my undergraduate years because it’s something I really believe in and I think it’s important. I loved it!


For current volunteers, I would say stay flexible and take care of yourself because burnout is a real thing. Remember the big picture, we’re in a classroom or working with peers, we’re planting seeds. Some of those seeds, you’ll see them immediately but there’s a lot of times where you’ll walk out like, ‘Did anyone understand, did they get something out of that workshop?’ There’s a good chance it’s going to help someone later on, they can pass the information onto a friend, it might help them in their own lives. Remember the big picture.

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Verizon Innovative Learning at Fordham University

Submitted by Benjamin Delikat, Program Director for Peer Health Exchange NYC

I am an alum of Fordham University at Rose Hill, and am very grateful for the education I received and the friends I made while I attended undergraduate studies there. One incredibly important part of my college experience was volunteering with the Fordham Peer Health Exchange chapter, and getting off-campus to engage with young people in the community in a meaningful way.

I am always excited to hear about ways my alma mater is supporting the agency of young people in the Bronx and in New York City. So I was thrilled when Britta Seifert, Program Manager for the PHE chapter at Fordham, pitched the idea of joining the Verizon Summer program as a client.

This program was fantastic for a few reasons – it brought high school students together from New York and surrounding cities to Fordham’s Campus to get the experience of living and studying in a college setting. From coding to communications to business plans, high schoolers learned about entrepreneurship while helping a local business. The program exposed them to new ideas, trained them in valuable new skills, and provided them with individualized attention and support from industry experts and college professors. Additionally, this program offered the opportunity for participating students to get “real world” experience communicating with and solving tech issues for clients like Peer Health Exchange. Over the course of the program, the students paired with PHE helped us to identify the technical needs and limitations to develop an app for our staff to consistently and accurately evaluate the quality of our volunteers in the classroom.

I was consistently impressed (though not surprised) by the curiosity, professionalism, and dedication of the high school students who developed this useful tool. You can learn more about the program and Kiana Jackson, a member of the student group we worked with, below.

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Peer Health Exchange Stands with Planned Parenthood

We are deeply disappointed about the Senate vote to defund Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood provides critical information and health care services to young people across the country. This vote to defund Planned Parenthood has the potential to jeopardize healthy futures for young people everywhere. We believe all young people deserve access to the health resources and services they need to live healthy lives.


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