At a recent reflective session with the fellows the question was raised, “how is what we do helping people?" It’s an honest question, and an important point of reflection. Questioning and assessing purpose, usefulness, and approach is a continual process that will highlight both strengths and areas of improvement. For Connections4Health, it will ultimately help us help underserved people more effectively.
As with any thorough critical discussion, there were diverging perspectives as to how and why the program is purposeful and helpful. Each perspective carried its own merit, but a thread that would help bind the differing viewpoints was missing. This lead us to a discussion on the psychology of scarcity.
Experiencing scarcity impedes a person cognitive capacity for longer-term planning, the very function needed to make and implement plans for anything beyond getting immediate needs met. Many, if not most, of the clients the fellows meet with are (rightfully) focused on these immediate needs. For instance, if I am focused on having enough money to put food on the table for the rest of this month while working two part-time jobs and caring for two children, these are my priorities. I will exhaust myself day-in and day-out to make sure these priorities are met. And paradoxically I will find some semblance of security in this tirelessness and insecurity.
Within this cycle the amount of cognitive bandwidth people experiencing scarcity have available for anything else beyond meeting these needs becomes narrowed. It’s not that the idea of a better job escapes them. Sure, many realize a better job will help. It’s just that the cognitive capacity is not available to them to organize and implement a plan to this end.
Poverty taxes the mind, and the C4H Fellows provide a space and opportunity for clients to step outside the psychological cycle of scarcity. The interactions fellows have with people provides containment, a space where they jointly hold the stress associated with change—say, finding a new job—which in turn offers the client a little more cognitive and behavioral capacity to not only consider the idea of a better job, but to actualize it.
It’s humbling that we have the opportunity to meet with so many amazing patients at Birmingham Free Clinic and patrons at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and to provide the space and support we do. We are also excited to announce a new partnership with Northside Christian Health Center! It is really a pleasure to begin working with Dr. Jerome Gloster, Johanna Smith, Leslie Hawthorne and all the patients they care for over on the Northside. Beginning in May 2018, C4H will be onsite at NSCHC two days per week as we begin integrating into the health center’s workflow.
With a new community partnership also comes new recruitment efforts. Perhaps the timing has been synchronistic as C4H recently began actively recruiting from the Schools of Sociology and Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, as well as the Pre-Health Club at Chatham University. We were also recently invited to and attended the Pitt Summer Job/Volunteer Fair, where 24 students from various majors expressed interest in the program – some of whom have already completed the application! Each of these new avenues to reach students nicely complements the many established channels at Pitt, Duquense, and CMU.
It really does take everyone coming together to make some small difference in the lives of underserved people in our communities. C4H is grateful to have so many committed and passionate students be a part of this journey. Thank you to all the fellows who make this possible, for challenging and learning from one another and for giving of your time and energy to move the needle a little for the people you meet.
And in case you haven’t heard yet, there is a show taking place Friday, April 6 in Scaife Hall Auditorium on Pitt Campus at 8pm. Your friendly (and award winning) neighborhood a cappella groups, C Flat Run and Songburghs are showcasing their hard work and passion for music all while raising some funds for Connections4Health. Stop by, check out the show, and donate if you’d like.