By The Trussville Tribune staff reports
BIRMINGHAM — The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF) of Alabama has selected the 2019-2020 class of Alabama Schweitzer Fellows, and a Trussville native is among the selected.
The new fellows will spend the next year learning to effectively address the social factors that impact health and developing lifelong leadership skills. In doing so, they will follow the example set by famed physician-humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, for whom the fellowship is named.
The ASF’s mission is preparing the next generation of professionals who will serve and empower vulnerable people to live healthier lives and create healthier communities.
Selectee Heather Johnson (maiden name: Hudspeth) was born and raised in the Trussville area and graduated from Hewitt-Trussville High School in 1997. She currently lives in Trussville with her husband and three children.
“I have a BA from Birmingham Southern College (major: political science) and an MPH (Master of Public Health) from UAB,” said Johnson. “I am currently working on my doctoral degree in Maternal and Child Health /Health Care Organization and Policy at UAB School of Public Health. My areas of interest are maternal health care/maternal mental health, children with special health care needs, and the relationship between early childhood experiences, such as family relationships and educational experiences, and early childhood health.”
As a fellow, Johnson will be working with Pathways, which is a homeless shelter.
“My community partner site is Pathways homeless shelter,” said Johnson. “The purpose of my project is to work with the leadership of Pathways to build their organizational capacity to open a child care center for children experiencing homelessness. While it is difficult to get precise data on the number of homeless children in our area, point in time estimates from 2018 indicate that (there are) as many (as) 60 households with at least one adult and one child residing in an emergency or transitional shelters in Jefferson, Shelby, or St. Clair counties each day. The proposed child care facility will serve children, ages birth to five, who are experiencing homelessness regardless of the shelter where they are being housed.”
Childcare is an important component in helping the homeless.
“Homeless parents need child care for their children because without affordable child care as an option, homeless women must take their children with them during the day, preventing them from having the opportunity to address the obstacles that stand in the way of economic stability and permanent housing,” said Johnson. “For example, Pathways offers classes, such as GED classes, and job skills building classes; however, mothers with young children have difficulty participating in these classes while providing care for their child. Further, children experiencing homelessness need a break from the realities of their daily life, and need a safe place to learn and play. This child care center has the potential to make a positive difference in the lives of children in a time of great need, and at a critical, formative time in their life.”
This particular project is one that has held an appeal for Johnson since last year.
“I became interested in the fellowship after meeting several of the 2018-2019 fellows,” said Johnson. “I serve on the board of directors for the South Highland Mental Outreach Project (SHOP), a day program for individuals with serious mental illness in the Birmingham area. SHOP was fortunate enough to be a chosen site for two fellows last year. I saw the work of these individuals and was impressed by their commitment to servant leadership, and so I began to think about the ways that I could use the fellowship as an opportunity to glorify God and to benefit my community. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Matthew 25: 35-40 because it has helped me to clarify my purpose. ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.’ I am so grateful to play a small role in the development of this child care center. I really feel honored to do this work.”