April 14, 2023

Updates from the Microsites: New Volunteer Opportunities at Enlace and Onward House

CommunityHealth recognizes that hyper-localized care is accessible care. So to meet our communities where they are at, we opened two community-based clinics in our patients’ neighborhoods of Belmont Cragin at Onward House in 2021 and Little Village at Enlace in 2022. 

The community-based clinics offer flexible nighttime and weekend availability that eliminates the barriers to care, such as commutes and work/childcare schedules. And with an on-site lab and telehealth services, patients can receive quality health care just down the block from their homes. 

However, patients from suburbs as far as Joliet seek the compassionate services CommunityHealth offers at community-based clinics where staff and volunteers are known to take their time to truly listen.

“Microsites provide extra support to patients who often time get dismissed or lost in the system.” – Maria Martinez (Staff Nurse)

During Volunteer Appreciation Month in April, CommunityHealth is expanding the volunteer opportunities available at the community-based clinic locations.

Shai Smith has volunteered with CommunityHealth since December of 2022 and has recently relocated her service from West Town to Enlace. She will continue performing intakes for patients and now has the chance to draw blood as well as collect specimens for processing. Shai explains how these new opportunities strengthen her clinical skills from a foundation of cultural competency…

“I have loved my experience working as a Triage volunteer at the Enlace Clinic. Having the opportunity to create a welcoming space and connect with patients as they first walk into the clinic has taught me a lot about what it means to deliver quality, patient centered care. I’m excited for the expanded opportunities that will allow me to not only hone my own clinical skills, but also provide me with additional opportunities to continue to learn from the patients we see at Enlace.” 

In the past, most interpreters have served remotely and triagers were limited to measuring vitals or checking patients in. Now volunteers can expect the opportunity to learn and conduct labs, and local interpreters have the option to interpret for providers on-site. Volunteers starting at Enlace and Onward House can look forward to learning new skills in patient care, relationship-building, and overall clinic management.

For example, John Brennan recently expanded his skillset from interpreting, triage, and health education to drawing blood at our Belmont Cragin location, even practicing the stick on one of our staff!

CommunityHealth invests in our volunteers just as they invest in our communities. Thank you to John for over 2,000 hours of service since joining us in April of 2010.

The positive impacts of the new volunteer responsibilities reverberate from volunteers to community members to staff. CommunityHealth’s Manager of Volunteers and Training Programs, Ava Zeligson, cheers that these role expansions will “maximize the use of our volunteers’ time” to “stay busier, learn new skills, and take work off of staff.” And these very inspiring staff who opened and manage the community-based clinics embody the opportunities to grow as a health care professional that the new volunteer roles offer.


Volunteers at the community-based clinics will have the chance to learn from the culturally competent mentors Gloria, Maria, and Lila…

As Clinic Manager of Microsites and Labs, Gloria Alvarez has delegated the successful launch of  both community-based clinics. In service with CommunityHealth for 17 years this August, Gloria started as a lab technician and Clinic Coordinator, building such in-depth relationships with patients and strengths in clinic operations that CommunityHealth asked her to lead the opening of the Onward House clinic in 2021. 

Regarding microsite management as “the experience of a lifetime,” Gloria refers to community-based clinics as a “reliable health care home.” She is amazed at “how much we were able to build within a small setting,” highlighting that her biggest lesson so far is that “we are capable of achieving great things.” Gloria understands community-based clinics as “the opportunity to be able to serve patients closer to home” so they don’t “have to travel or go as far for their health care.”

She is excited for the extra support from volunteers in making sure all supplies and medical equipment are ready, drawing and processing labs, and conducting intakes and registrations. She explains that “without the providers, there would be no clinic” and thanks volunteers who “take time out of their day” as it “goes a long way for not only the patients but the staff that are there manning the site by themselves.”

Maria Martinez is the go-to Staff Nurse to train nursing students. She will have served with CommunityHealth for a year this May and manages everything from medication refills, vaccinations, contraceptive care, reporting abnormal lab values, reporting provider recommendations, and more. Maria explains her service at the microsites as “the expansion of health resources and meeting the community halfway.”

Beyond triaging emerging cases, consulting patients, and providing them support with their chronic health conditions, Maria emphasizes that she is beyond all else “another voice for patients.” During shadowing with Maria, nurses in training can expect to learn blood pressure checks, insulin instructions, new medication instructions, vaccination administration, and even mental health resource mapping.

Maria emphasizes that serving at community-based clinics will empower volunteers to “advocate for vulnerable populations” as the “imaginary hand to hold.” As “most volunteers are nurses from acute care settings,” she recognizes these opportunities as ”a way to destress and give back to the community.”

As Clinic Support Coordinator, Lila Acosta exclaims that “patients have been [her] whole life” and is known for the deep, personal relationships she holds within the community. She will have been in service with CommunityHealth for two years this June, having started at the front desk and elevating to Gloria’s second hand at Enlace in 2022 with her background as a medical assistant.

Fulfilled by the fact that “patients feel better when they come in and go home happy,” Lila represents the communities she serves as she herself grew up in La Villita. Her devotion to quality health care for all goes beyond the clinic doors as patients regularly update and contact her regarding treatment through the Patient Portal, reporting success with medication management or requesting follow-up referals with crises.

Lila explains that “both sites are great for meeting new people” as these roles help “develop skills for volunteers to deal with patients and people in general.” She has learned “a whole different spectrum of the medical field that is community” where “providers genuinely care” at the microsites. And she advises that through lap equipment set ups, medication drop offs, and other clinic management responsibilities, her biggest focus is on making patients feel heard.

Gloria, Maria, and Lila all refer to the community-based clinics as their home and the patients they serve as family. Community members greet them with hugs and open doors for them as they run the clinic. Prioritizing a safe space for patients, Lila is known for her cuckoo clock doorbell that distracts patients from health stresses, like high blood sugar levels, and reminds them they are exactly where they need to be.


With more volunteer responsibilities, wait time for services will be minimized, designated timeframes for appointments will be more consistently met, and more patients can be registered, scheduled, and treated!

Stephanie Jara, who has volunteered as a remote Spanish interpreter at our main location in West Town since March of 2020, shares what she is most excited for in starting interpreting in person at Enlace…

“I’m very excited about interpreting at Enlace. Initially, I felt nervous as I had only been interpreting remotely since I joined CommunityHealth right before COVID started back in 2020. However, the transition has been really smooth and now that I have the opportunity to interact more directly with both the patients and providers, I feel like there’s a special something added to patient encounters that makes me feel more committed to continuing to serve.

I think microsites such as Enlace open up possibilities to enhance many skills, particularly language-related and interpersonal skills, which are timeless and transferrable regardless of the field we work in. Lastly, interpreting at Enlace has a very special personal connection to me as I get to do something I enjoy in the community I live in.”

CommunityHealth welcomes health care providers who prioritize Quality Health Care for All to apply to volunteer. Happy Volunteer Appreciation Month to our inspiring and irreplaceable team!