July 14, 2023

30 Years of Care: Meet the Faces of CommunityHealth!

CommunityHealth is celebrating 30 Years of Care!

The mission of CommunityHealth is to serve people without essential health care. Our vision is Quality Health Care For All.

CommunityHealth is one of the largest volunteer-based free health centers in the nation.

 Serving at-risk and vulnerable populations, cultural competency is at the forefront our care with comprehensive services, a triple language guarantee, and volunteers coming from the communities we service.

We provide primary and specialty care, medications, lab testing, mental health services, and Health Education at no charge to low-income, uninsured, and underinsured adults in Chicago.

Beyond our business model that does not charge patients or take insurance, what truly makes CommunityHealth special is the real people serving real people.

The Serafino Effect

In 1993, Dr. Serafino Garella, an internist at St. Joseph Hospital, saw a need for a place uninsured people could receive health care.

He and a group of colleagues went door-to-door, asking people about how they accessed health care. They found that nearly half the people surveyed had no insurance or medical home.

Dismayed by these results and driven by a belief that health care is a fundamental right, Dr. Garella secured funding and a small storefront location.

With the help of a few volunteer health care professionals, they began seeing walk-in patients twice a week.

Over the years, CommunityHealth grew in scope and size, adding services such as a full-service pharmacy, dental clinic, and over 20 specialties.

“The success of CommunityHealth is not only the greatest professional satisfaction I’ve experienced, but also a confirmation that many people in our society can still believe in and act on their idealism.”

In 2000, Dr. Garella was recognized as one of the Chicagoans of the Year by Chicago Magazine for his development of  CommunityHealth.

We are sure he would be proud to learn that his predecessor, Stephanie Willding, MPA, was a recipient of Crain’s 40 Under 40, just as his own profile had been published in Crain’s Chicago Business in 1998.

“When we started this thing we had three goals in mind. The primary goal was to provide primary and preventive care to people who cannot otherwise afford it. But I also wanted to see if it would be possible to get health professionals–especially young health professionals, before they go out into the world, so to speak–to come here so they would be exposed to the needs of the inner city and to learn about it and perhaps become interested in changing the system. The third goal, I suppose, was to indicate to the community at large that doctors and nurses and other health professionals still do have a streak of volunteerism.”

Dr. Serafino Garella

Even in our 30th year, CommunityHealth continues to evolve.

2023 is not only a year of reflection and celebration but yet another of growth and expansion.

We commemorate our first year of service at the Enlace community-based clinic located in Little Village, where we brought health care to our patients’ neighborhoods.

We deployed mobile clinics to provide health assessments and point-of-care treatment to asylum seekers housed at police precincts without access to resources like laundry or showers.

We hosted in-person workshops for cooking, yoga, and women’s wellness for the first time since the pandemic.

Click here to learn more about what our staff, volunteers, and Board of Directors are reflecting on throughout this year!

Meet the Faces Behind 30 Years of Care!

Quality Health Care for All is a reality thanks to devoted staff, compassionate volunteers, and diverse patients.

Please join us in celebrating the people who make us More Than a Free Clinic…

Ava Zeligson

Meet our Manager of Volunteer and Training Programs, Ava Zeligson, who has worked at CommunityHealth since 2014.

Ava is integral to our mission of managing health care providers who represent and relate to the patients we serve. She is a foundation in our reflexive, compassionate leadership that builds communities of resilience from the inside out.

“There is so much that keeps me excited to go to work, nearly 9 years running. At CommunityHealth, we live our mission with true integrity. We are able to be creative, thoughtful, and very adaptable to ensure our patients have access to quality care, and we keep expanding what access and quality really mean! I trust, respect, and genuinely like my coworkers and feel lucky to be on the same team. Of course, I am also a huge fan of our secondary mission – developing future health care professionals – and supporting our volunteers and training program participants is majorly soul-feeding. Working alongside so many people who care deeply for our patients while volunteering their time and seeking consistent growth and improvement is a dream, and helping these generous, talented people do a great job is a fine way to earn a buck! I’ve also grown a lot myself, professionally and personally, and CommunityHealth continues to invest in me and my ability to make a broader impact and be fulfilled in my work.”

Ava Zeligson

Dr. Waldman

Meet our Volunteer Medical Director and Board of Directors member, Dr. Babs Waldman, who has served with our clinic since 2000.

In her almost 23 years with CommunityHealth, Dr. Waldman is known for treating patients holistically and inspiring timeless wisdom about how to practice healthy lifestyles outside of clinic doors. She is a cherished energy for staff, volunteers, and patients alike and a staple of CommunityHealth’s devotion to meet communities where they are at.

“When I was planning to leave private practice in 1999, I happened to see an article in the paper about CommunityHealth. I was looking for opportunities to work with underserved communities.The culture of the organization, the amazing staff, the sense of satisfaction of caring for patients who are in need and are so appreciative, the opportunity to work with the next generation of medical providers, and the opportunity to creatively solve problems–all these aspects of CommunityHealth have kept me volunteering.

Dr. Babs Waldman

Dr. Jewel

Meet Dr. Jewel Sophia Younge, a clinical pharmacist who joined CommunityHealth through her studies with our community partner, University of Illinois Chicago.

She won Clinical Preceptor of the Year in 2020 for her culturally competent care and reflexive, compassionate leadership. As a humanities teacher on the side, she understands that “being a health care professional means providing people the tools and opportunities to reach self-actualization.”

“I think of myself as a rogue provider, sometimes. What I realize when I am here is that I am not rogue. I am a reflection of my environment, and I am the provider that my community needs. The continuity of care at CH is something I wish all of my patients could experience and, in fact, something I want for myself. Being ‘insured’ does not ensure superior care, unfortunately. Perhaps it is why we see the US spending so much on care and getting so little in return – it is not about how much we spend, it is about the care we offer. Volunteering gives me the opportunity to learn about the needs of my community, so I can be more responsive. It keeps me in touch with people who are more like where I am from than where I am. It keeps me active, and optimistic.”

Dr. Jewel Sophia Younge

Amy Milroy

Meet Amy Milroy, a registered Amy Milroy, a registered nurse practitioner who trained at our clinic as a student.

As a Spanish-speaking provider, Amy connects to the communities beyond clinical measures and provides safe, empowering space for our patients. She is a treasured member at CommunityHealth, a leader for other volunteers, and the recipient of the Primary Care Volunteer of the Year award in 2021.

“Outside of CommunityHealth I have never encountered a place where so many passionate, likeminded individuals share a common purpose and truly succeed in bringing high-quality healthcare to people who lack resources. I have seen patient outcomes at CommunityHealth that are as good or better than in health systems where many patients have private insurance and access to any healthcare imaginable. What I have realized is that the most important factors in achieving health and wellness goals for patients are the rapport and partnership of patients and their clinic, the drive and determination of clinicians to enact evidence-based plans of care, and the dedication of patients to follow trusted healthcare providers’ advice.”

Amy Milroy DNP, APRN

Eric Miranda

Meet Eric Miranda, a Spanish language interpreter who joined CommunityHealth in 2017.

Eric won Spanish Interpreter of the Year in 2021 for building connections that allow patients to more than be understood by their providers in their native language, but truly heard. His service is the foundation of Quality Health Care for All where patients can relate to and genuinely trust the health care providers that come from their communities.

“I’ve learned that there are still plenty of people who want to make the world a better place. I originally came to CommunityHealth not out of an altruistic spirit–I just wanted to practice interpreting. But I was so moved by the environment and the spirit of CommunityHealth that I couldn’t stay away. CommunityHealth kind of saved me during the pandemic. I felt like I had purpose.”

Eric Miranda

Teresa Garcia

Meet Teresa Garcia, a patient with CommunityHealth for over 20 years.

She came to CommunityHealth without many care options due to her income level and immigration status. But now she doesn’t worry about accessing care because she knows she can count on CommunityHealth to be there for her. And because she doesn’t have to worry, she can focus on her kids, her family, and her community.

“I’ve been following this clinic since the first one. They have been helping me control my diabetes. Thanks to the clinic I have been receiving insulin. . . I’ve come to diabetes education classes and I’ve liked how they treat me. My mother as well. She’s been coming for around 17 years. Because I recommended her, I said to her, ‘Mom, let’s go over there.’”

Teresa Garcia

Cheers to 30 years!

Thank you for helping us provide free health care in communities’ native languages to people living without insurance.

Celebrate our 30th anniversary at our Open House Block Party on Saturday, August 12th, or at the All In Celebration on Thursday, September 28th!