Alfredia Dysart-Drake didn’t get her start in healthcare. “I graduated from the University of Michigan, and I was in radio broadcasting for about ten years,” Dysart-Drake says.
In broadcasting, Dysart-Drake was involved in many community events, organizations, and volunteer roles. This involvement changed something in her.
“Along the way, I found myself seeing people in certain situations and circumstances, and being able to help them and do what I needed to do … I decided to switch my career.”
After a decade in broadcast radio, Dysart-Drake began working in the nonprofit sector. Much of her work has involved connecting families and youth to necessary resources, as she did at Big Brothers, Big Sisters. “We had to do home visits and interviews with the family and youth you’d match to mentors. You’d come in contact with a youth who’d need a mentor, but they’d also need other resources, too,” she explains. She happily connected the families and youth to additional resources.
Since Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Dysart-Drake has had many other roles that she now recognizes as Community Health Worker (CHW) positions. “I’ve worked in different venues and capacities, but I’ve always worked with people to help them find a better way of life, a better way of living. And even when I was doing all that, ‘Community Health Worker’ wasn’t a term I was familiar with,” she says. “Once I heard about the CHW training, a light went off. I realized I’ve been doing this work all along, for 35 years.”
Now, Dysart-Drake is a Program Associate and Navigator at the Battle Creek Community Foundation through a partnership with Albion Health Care Alliance. In her current role, she organizes various programs and events for her community, including the Health and Safety Expo and Healthy Babies Day. She also works on the 211 line, providing navigational support to individuals who need help paying their utility bills, getting gas cards to go to work, and connecting individuals to information resources.
She has been a certified CHW for more than four years, and she puts her decades of experience to use as a CHW trainer at Everyday Life Consulting. From these experiences, Dysart-Drake has cultivated a simple but profound definition of Community Health Workers. “CHWs are advocates.”
To Dysart-Drake, CHWs are advocates because of the work they do, regardless of the many titles they may have. “You are within a community, and you may work with a particular agency or organization, but you know what resources and services are in your community. And you’re able to match individuals’ needs to those resources. They have a need, and you work on their behalf to get that need resolved – that’s advocating,” Dysart-Drake explains.
While she’s had many roles and titles in her time as a CHW, Dysart-Drake recognizes that her first CHW role was at Habitat for Humanity, long before she knew the term. “We helped families become first-time homeowners. Individuals would come into the program and would have credit issues, but we’d help them get those fixed,” she says. “We’d give them training and support to resolve those issues.”
After families enrolled in the credit education program, their credit would increase. Once it was at the appropriate level, Dysart-Drake and her team would help families finance and build their first-ever homes. “Being able to get a family into the program, and then help build the house meant so much. What it did for the adults, the children – they have a place called home. That was really rewarding to be able to see that.”
For other professionals looking for a rewarding career, Dysart-Drake recommends searching within themselves before pursuing the CHW field. “If you’re not able to support diversity, whether it’s age, ethnicity, race, or lifestyle, then this type of work isn’t for you. You need compassion, empathy, and patience. You need to discern when to show tough love,” Dysart-Drake says with a laugh.
Above all, Dysart-Drake says that the ability to become a CHW comes from within. “What I do – I help people. That’s rewarding to me. Sometimes you get tired, but at the end of the day, if you’ve made someone’s life better or helped them solve a problem, it’s worth it. It has to come from within you, that desire to help people live a better life.”