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Homeless Student Intern

| March 5, 2015

*Names have been changed for the sake of privacy.

Ashley, a high school senior and participant in her school’s Medical First Responder class, was not a typical student. Though she was bright and capable—a student who raised her hand in class and contributed well to group discussions—she struggled in school and in life, through no fault of her own.

She was homeless.

Throughout her senior year, she bounced from one friend’s house to another, staying wherever she could find a place to land. She rented an apartment for a while, but was kicked out when the building started a remodeling process. At one point, she even lived in a hotel.

Money was obviously a problem, as was transportation. Ashley had a lot of trouble getting to school and because of that, she had attendance issues. She never had a permanent address, so she could not take the bus to school. She didn’t have a car, so she was dependent upon whomever she was living with to give her a ride to school.

With almost no money to speak of, Ashley was on the school’s free and reduced lunch program. The school paid for her textbooks and her graduation cap and gown. When Ashley’s mom occasionally visited from somewhere outside the Kansas City Metro area, she would buy Ashley food. Ashley would allocate that food and stretch it to last as long as she possibly could.

“Ashley was someone that came with very little and was working very hard to do great things with her life,” said her Medical First Responder teacher, Lea Anne. “She was very smart and quite capable of doing so much. It’s just as if life had kicked her down.”

Lea Anne was a big proponent of First Hand’s Healthe Foundations program at her school and fully supported its efforts to make students aware that the lifestyle choices they made could affect their health down the road. When Lea Anne found out Healthe Foundations was looking for high school summer interns to help develop and test its electronic curriculum, Lea Anne thought of Ashley.

“I recommended Ashley for the Healthe Foundations internship because she was one of my smartest students and was very interested in working in health care,” Lea Anne revealed. “She was smart enough to realize that it was a great opportunity for her. I think she was hoping it might be the ticket to her future.”

When Ashley submitted her resume for the paid internship, the Healthe Foundations staff took notice.

“Ashley was involved in numerous extracurricular activities and volunteered a lot,” recalled Lauren Butler, Healthe Foundations program manager. “Her interest in health care stood out to us. She also did a really nice job presenting herself during her interview.”

So Ashley was hired. She spent the summer developing and editing electronic content about patients suffering from melanoma, ventricular fibrillation and congestive heart failure. Though she had never participated in the program at school, she learned quickly and became a vital member of the team.

“Ashley had a great work ethic. She came and worked hard every day and she was very thorough,” said Patti Whitington Burton, Healthe Foundations program coordinator. “You could see some maturity beyond her years. She was accepting of criticism, which you don’t always find for kids that age—she wanted to improve. She asked a lot of good questions and really wanted to get an understanding of what the program was all about. You could tell she was very highly motivated to be in health care.”

Since Ashley was able to ride with Lea Anne to work every morning (Lea Anne was a teacher consultant for the summer internship), her only concern was her wardrobe.

“At the internship introduction, the students were told they had to wear business casual attire and dress professionally,” said Lea Anne. “Ashley was mortified. She confided in me that she didn’t have many clothes like that. So she ended up wearing two or three different shirts and the same pair of pants everyday. That’s all she had.”

With graduation and the internship completed, Ashley is now looking to create a new start for herself.

“Ashley could do whatever she wanted to do if she had the opportunity,” expressed Lea Anne. “The last time I talked to her was at the end of the internship. She wanted to go to college, but there was no money for that, so she was trying to find a place to work. I think her prospects for the future are very good—she’s really bright, she just needs a break.”

Lea Anne continued, “These opportunities that Healthe Foundations offers students may be life changing for them. It definitely gives them a direction and a hope for their future. It’s a wonderful outreach program for students that may not necessarily know about health care or preventable medical conditions. And for students like Ashley, it opens up a whole new world.”

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