October 29, 2021

Volunteer Spotlight: Mary Bianchi Harrington, 2020 Primary Care Provider of the Year

This month we’re learning more about Mary Bianchi Harrington, our 2020 Primary Care Provider of the year! Mary hails from Wilmette, IL, and is a Family Nurse Practitioner. She wears many hats at CommunityHealth – read on to learn more!

Photo of Mary in front of a brick wall

Mary Bianchi Harrington, NP, Volunteer Primary Care Provider

If you could have any superpower, which would you choose?

If I could have any superpower, I would choose to be a shapeshifter. To which my daughter quipped “of course you would, because you’re indecisive.”

Outside of volunteering with CommunityHealth, how do you like to spend your free time?

Outside of volunteering at CommunityHealth, I love to spend my free time with family and friends doing anything as long as it’s together. Lately, I have been spending time trying to become a better cook! Let’s just say that cooking is not exactly my strong suit, but I’m working on it – one slightly more edible meal at a time.

What is something that not a lot of people know about you?

A lot of people don’t know that I speak Spanish. I started to really learn Spanish while volunteering at CommunityHealth years ago. I am not yet fluent, but I am trying to improve my Spanish every day. I use apps to learn new vocabulary and take quizzes to challenge myself. I absolutely love being able to communicate directly with my Spanish-speaking patients.

What does your ideal vacation look like?

I studied abroad in Florence during undergrad and I absolutely fell in love with Italy! My ideal vacation is just wandering around, going to museums, and drinking coffee in cafes. My father’s family was originally from Lucca and Modena. I think it must be in my genes.

Why and how did you begin volunteering at CommunityHealth?

The story of how I started to volunteer at CommunityHealth has two acts. My first experience with CommunityHealth was when I started nursing school decades ago. My best friend saw a flyer for a free health clinic that needed volunteers. This was back when Dr. Serafino Garella started the clinic, and it was open only a few evenings a week. I continued to volunteer at CommunityHealth during my studies and actually did some clinical rotations at the clinic as well.

I stepped away from volunteering for quite some time while I focused on my new career, then later getting married and becoming a mom. During this time, I often thought about going back, but it became harder and harder as the years passed.

The second act of my story is centered around my oldest daughter. I took her to an Open House at the clinic. During the tour, she learned about all of the incredible work CommunityHealth does for its patients. After every new detail, my daughter stared at me, smiled, and firmly said, “Mom, you’re doing this” and so I did.

Do you remember your first day? What surprised you?

My first day at CommunityHealth was incredibly exciting, but also quite terrifying given that I had been away from the clinical setting for so long. The first person I met with was Dr. Matilde Rios. Dr. Rios, who later was kind enough to let me shadow her as I transitioned back to clinical work, was so kind and understanding of my feelings, and she provided so much reassurance during our chat. I was pleasantly surprised at how someone whom I had never met was so readily able to empathize with my fears and set me at ease.

What has kept you volunteering all this time?

This one is the easiest! I volunteer because I love being able to make a direct impact on our patients’ lives and their communities. Being a provider at CommunityHealth allows me to take action and do my small part to help address health disparities in Chicago.

What is something you’ve learned from volunteering at CommunityHealth?

I have learned so much about myself from my time at CommunityHealth over the years! Most importantly, it was through my experiences at the clinic where I realized my love for public health and working with underserved communities.

Can you share an especially memorable moment working with a patient/fellow volunteer/staff member?

There are so many patient stories that have really moved me during my time at CommunityHealth. For example, one of my patients had an appointment during the height of the pandemic, when hand sanitizer was very scarce. When I called him from the waiting room, he was carrying this enormous, gallon-sized container of hand sanitizer…with a pump and all! I originally thought it was a bit odd, thinking he may have brought his own supply just in case. When he placed the container down on the counter in the exam room, I stated that he was welcome to use ours and he smiled and said, “No, this is a gift for you!”

Hand sanitizer felt like a precious resource at the time. It was such an incredibly sweet and thoughtful gesture during a time when anxiety was heightened for all. I graciously thanked him for the gift, but told him to please bring it home to use for his family.

We’re so grateful for all that Mary has done for CommunityHealth and glad she found her way back to us! She plays an important role in the lives of our patients and our community, and we’re lucky to have her.