Learning about Community Health through Stories and over “Tables”

 Érika Canda Reflects on her Internship at PHF


Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic

I discovered Palm Health Foundation (PHF) two months after I graduated from Palm Beach Atlantic University, where I studied Biology (Pre-Med). By that time, I had decided to pursue a career in public health, a decision mostly impacted by my cultural background. I am an international student from Mozambique, a country where until this day, most of the population does not have access to quality healthcare. So I was beyond happy when I came across PHF, which was doing outstanding work to support health equity in vulnerable communities.

            While interning at PHF, I saw how devoted the organization was to engaging community voices in our COVID-19 Rapid Response team meetings. These meetings were a space where community leaders, PHF and BeWellPBC staff, and local partnering organizations could support each other in finding ways to assist Palm Beach County (PBC) residents who had been immensely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. At first, my role was to organize the stories that residents shared on SenseMaker (a digital story collection tool), and by the end of the year I was also identifying which stories connected to residents in need of immediate assistance. I sent these stories to our partnering organizations, Volunteer Nursing Corps and Community Partners of South Florida.

Connecting with Glades Residents Over “Tables”

            While interning at PHF, I also had the opportunity to be part of a Community Convening project that brought the first “Network Table” to Healthier Glades, one of PHF's Healthier Together communities. The Network Table is a model designed by Open Table, a nonprofit that uses relational and social capital to transform communities all around the world. Like PHF, Open Table also seeks to help people overcome social challenges and live healthier lives. During the implementation process, I worked alongside community leaders like Ms. Vere Jenkins and Miss. Eva Reese who, along with Andy McAusland, Director of Grants and Evaluation at PHF, graduated from the first Open Table training in the Glades in 2019. With the support of PHF, Ms. Jenkins and Ms. Reese have launched five “tables” in the Glades. These tables are composed of “friends” (those who receive table support) and “table members” (those who provide support).

            In the Summer of 2020, we went through an intensive Community Convening Training, led by Open Table CEO Jon Katov and Managing Director Angie Williams. During this time, there was a lot of brainstorming and planning on how this model could benefit the Glades. We discussed how a Network Table could bring resources to help children disadvantaged by the digital divide, be an additional source of relational and social capital to existing tables, and support families already being assisted by local organizations.

            Being a part of this process was exciting. I got to lead a LinkedIn training session for the implementation team, help Veree coordinate our meetings, and keep a record of our discussions. Although we finished our training in late September, we still had some work left to do.  We needed to understand how residents viewed their community, what they saw as its strengths, challenges, and needs. We interviewed 30 Glades residents from different backgrounds. My role in all of this was to organize the collected data and help identify any trends. This information brought us one step closer to having a fully established Network Table ready to help residents.

            As my internship comes to an end, I can't help but cherish all of the opportunities that I had through PHF. I couldn't have imagined that I would be working with so many incredible people dedicated to social change. I want to thank every PHF staff member for being so welcoming and kind and Patrick McNamara, the foundation’s president and CEO, for being such a compassionate leader. A big thank you goes to Andy McAusland for fostering an intentional learning environment for all interns. This experience will always stay with me.