Six new fellows prepare for year of service with Alamance County organizations

Six members of the Class of 2019 participated in a signing ceremony in Clohan Theatre to formalize their participation in two service-year programs offered by Elon in partnership with local organizations. Six fellows who have completed their year of service were also recognized. 

Members of the Class of 2019 participating in service-year programs during the next year are, from left, Bridgette Agbozo, Taylor Jones, Mariatu Okonofua, Lexy Roberts, Katie Davin and Chelsea Thomas.
‚ÄčA signing ceremony on Wednesday marked the beginning of a year of service for six Elon seniors who will be working in health, wellness and education in Alamance County in partnership with local organizations. 

Four new Elon graduates will serve for a year as Elon-Alamance Health Partners fellows with a focus on the health and wellbeing of Alamance County residents and two new graduates will serve as Kenan Community Impact Fellows working with local students through Alamance Achieves, a nonprofit focused on furthering educational success. It's the fifth cohort for both initiatives that fall under the umbrella of Elon's service-year programs. 

Kathy Coville of Cone Health is co-director of the program with Tom Brinkley, executive director of the Student Professional Development Center, and she explained Wednesday the impact these service year fellows have within the organizations they serve as well as within the broader community. It's a year of learning and growth for each fellow, with each supported and encouraged while being given the freedom to take on and overcome new challenges. 

"We throw then into real meaningful and consequential work where there's no one right answer," Coville told the crowd gathered in Clohan Theatre in the Inman Admissions Welcome Center. "We tell them that there is a community of mentors standing alongside you saying, 'Yes, you're the leader here. This is your job. You can do this.' Each of you has made your mark."

The ceremony offered the opportunity to celebrate those accomplishments of the cohort of fellows who are now completing their year of service at Alamance Regional Medical Center, the Alamance County Health Department, Healthy Alamance, Impact Alamance and Alamance Achieves. Finishing their year of service were Jared Bishop, Bernadette Cooper, Daniela Cerón, Kelsey Warren, Kacie Lynch and Sally Gordon.

A common thread through the comments from each of the fellows was how they had started the year unsure of themselves and what might lie ahead, thrust into situations that were new with them. Many noted that though they felt well-equipped with the skills and knowledge they gained during four years at Elon, they were initially unsure how to use them. 

"I allowed myself, and sometimes I was even forced, to be uncomfortable," said Daniella Cerón, who worked during the past year with Alamance Achieves and who will now pursue a master's degree in social work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work. "My advice to you, the new fellows, is press into that discomfort because it is from there that learning, growth and change happen."

Each of the new fellows will work with one of four Alamance County agencies: Healthy Alamance, Impact Alamance, the Alamance County Health Department and Alamance Regional Medical Center. Elon University and the four partner agencies are funding the program. 

Elon-Alamance Health Partners fellows

Bridgette Agbozo, Healthy Alamance

A psychology major, Agbozo plans to pursue a career in public health, and views a service year working with Health Alamance as a next logical step toward that goal. An Isabella Cannon Leadership Fellow, Agbozo has participated in a number of service-learning opportunities and says she's seen firsthand the drive local leaders have as they work toward community goals. "My role as a public health practitioner working at the community level would afford me the opportunity to demonstrate how collaboration among stakeholders can bring a community closer to realizing their vision of an improved quality of life," Agbozo said. 

At Elon, the Greensboro, N.C. native has conducted rigorous research into health education, participated in internships at Elon University Health and Wellness and Greensboro Planned Parenthood, and studied in the United Kingdom and Denmark. She created and implemented a peer sexual and reproductive health education and support group called Health4Us on campus that connected with nearly 50 women of color. "The year of service program will provide an opportunity to use my passion for health, my interest in community engagement and my drive to maximize available community resources," Agbozo said. 

Katie Davin, Alamance County Health Department

A public health studies major, Davin views the service year program as an opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge she's gained during the past four years to improve the health and lives of patients while also strengthening communities. She's interned at the global nonprofit Ashoka in Washington, D.C. and with the Planned Parenthood health center in Greensboro, N.C., while also working for the U.K.'s national Stop Smoking Service while she studied in London. "For as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for helping improve the lives of others," Davin said in her application.

Davin has spent her time at Elon getting to know the surrounding community and learning about the inequities it experiences. She's volunteered for Family Abuse Services, Crossroads Sexual Assault Response & Resource Center and Positive Attitudes Youth Center. "These experiences have allowed me to observe and connect with the Alamance County community, and it will be extremely rewarding to work to improve the quality of life for so many in this community."

Taylor Jones, Alamance Regional Medical Center

Jones plans to become a physician assistant and views the service year program with Alamance Regional Medical Center as preparation for taking a community-oriented approach to health care delivery. A public health studies major and Odyssey Program scholar, Jones has focused her Lumen Prize research while at Elon on the access Latina adolescents have to the human papillomavirus vaccine in Alamance County. Jones said in her application that her research has demonstrated to her the importance and impact that access to resources can have on a community's quality of life. "This opportunity will bridge my personal desire to advocate for equal access to resources with existing initiatives within the community," Jones said. "I consider collaboration to be the core of innovation of thought that allows for the emergence of new ideas that contribute to the promotion of quality of life within the community."

While at Elon, Jones said she's learned that "one cannot understand a community problem without collaborating directly with community members with firsthand experiences." She has volunteered with Elon's It Takes a Village Project as well as The Open Door Clinic of Alamance County, experiences that have taught her the value of community service. "Communities are made up of individuals and through my experiences, I've learned how I can have an impact by supporting one individual at a time," she said.  

Chelsea Thomas, Impact Alamance

 A strategic communications major, Thomas expects to draw a variety of experiences from her service year working with Impact Alamance that will advance her toward the future goals of obtaining a master's of public health degree and working in the nonprofit world. While at Elon, Thomas has worked as a nonprofit operations intern at World Relief Triad in High Point and as a communications and development intern at MDC in Durham. "I am very passionate about serving others, whether that's through Young Life, my career, or in relationships," Thomas said in her application. "I want to use my skills and abilities to advocate for and empower vulnerable people, to create positive change, and better my community. I hope to use my skills in social media and content creation to do this."

Thomas points to an experience in high school working at a local free clinic where her father frequently worked that has helped lay the groundwork for her work in the year ahead. Realizing a need, she and her sister applied for grants, asked for support from the community and created a program with healthy food and communications about nutritious diet, and locations in the community that could help support such a diet. "I never knew that five years later I would be seeking a career that would allow me to help people the way my dad allowed my sister and I to help his patients when I was in high school," Thomas said. 

Kenan Community Impact Fellows

Mariatu Okonofua, Alamance Achieves

Okonofua learned about the Kenan Community Impact Fellows program as a student ambassador in the Student Professional Development Center and was inspired to apply in part by the experience of her sorority sister, Bernadette Cooper, who just completed her service year. Majoring in policy studies and sociology, Okonofua has the long-term goal of working in educational policy to help close achievement gaps and educational disparities in the U.S. and sees her work during the coming year with Alamance Achieves as helping her move toward that goal. 

At Elon, Okonofua coordinated, planned and hosted the first Black Solidarity Day Conference at Elon as student coordinator in the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education, served as an executive intern in the Provost's Office and was a college access team mentor with the Elon Academy. "I believe that this fellowship will provide me the perfect opportunity to gain experience in my intended field as well as to give back to the community that I have grown to love through my student teaching and volunteer work at the Positive Attitude Youth Center," Okonofua said in her application. 

Lexy Roberts, Alamance Achieves

Roberts graduates from Elon with a bachelor's degree in public health studies, having completed research as an undergraduate that looked at how racial microaggressions impact the mental health of black women and the relationship of learned behaviors for their daughters. She described herself in her application as a "lover of learning," noting that "this desire for knowledge and experiences are a driving force in my life." She noted that "unfortunately, a quality education is not available to all, which is why I am passionate about work that spotlights this inequality and advocates for change."

Roberts said she places a high value on community service and the goal of servant leaders to put the needs of others first. "I have witnessed how community service unites communities and increases the level of awareness of issues and causes," Roberts said. "I believe it provides an invaluable opportunity for reflection and engagement, which heightens the well-being of everyone."