Alumna Paloma Suarez ’12 ‘15MPH Receives Excellence in AmeriCorps Award

UMass Amherst SPHHS alumna Paloma Suarez in action at the South End Community Health Center

Alumna Paloma Suarez '12 '15MPH carries bags of frozen meals to the
entryway of South End Community Health Center for families to pick up.
(Photo courtesy Jesse Costa/WBUR)

November 23, 2021

Alumna Paloma Suarez, who received her bachelor’s degree in Nutrition in 2012 and her MPH degree in Community Health Education in 2015 and serves on the SPHHS Advisory Board, has been named a 2021 Excellence in AmeriCorps award winner. She was recognized with the Innovative Service Award for her work through Social Capital, Inc. at the South End Community Health Center (SECHC) in Boston, MA. The Innovative Service Award recognizes a member who has incorporated new methods or approaches that are original and creatively address community needs.

Suarez had joined AmeriCorps and been placed to serve in the SECHC’s pediatric division, developing programs to promote positive health and wellness behaviors in children and their families, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

“When this pandemic first started affecting our community, I was frightened with how it would affect not only our patients but our community as a whole,” she says, noting that nearly 70 percent of SECHC patients live below federal poverty and over 1,500 patients are homeless. “I was distraught by the thought of schools closing and parents losing their jobs. For low-income families, breakfast and lunch may be the only complete meals some children receive in a given day.”

Suarez worked to address food insecurity and other social determinants of health. She established partnerships with local organizations to provide over 5,000 prepared meals, 3,000 culturally sensitive frozen meals, fresh produce, and supplies to pediatric patients. Suarez also played an important role in conducting 70% of the health center’s social determinants of health screenings. She was onsite every day making sure that families had what they needed and through her contributions 706 adults, 183 youth, 494 children, 125 infants, and countless others were reached.

"While I have lived in Massachusetts for sixteen years, growing up in the Dominican Republic showed me how extreme disparities between social classes, particularly regarding access to good food, can lead to higher incidences of disease,” says Suarez. “After graduating from UMass Amherst, I saw the need in my community and decided to serve our country through national service. Although I no longer live in a developing country, I understand how disparities are just as pressing here in the United States. I am increasingly motivated to work towards eradicating the issue.”

Since completing her term of service through AmeriCorps, Suarez has started a new position at Boston Community Pediatrics as the director of wellness and care navigation.

“All of my experience as an AmeriCorps member has helped me in my new position,” she says. “Through this year of service, I had the opportunity to serve with an amazing group of AmeriCorps members that every day gave their time and efforts to make our country a better place. This national service helped me to continue to grow individually and also as a community member.”

About AmeriCorps:

AmeriCorps is the federal agency for volunteering and service. More than 1.2 million AmeriCorps members across all AmeriCorps programs have served the nation, giving more than 1.6 billion hours of service and earning nearly $4 billion in education awards since 1994. Every year, thousands of AmeriCorps members prepare students for success, rebuild communities and revitalize cities, support veterans, fight the opioid epidemic, respond to disasters, preserve public lands, strengthen education, foster economic opportunity, and more.

Now in its seventh year, the Excellence in AmeriCorps Awards were created to recognize the outstanding and innovative AmeriCorps programs, members, and alumni tackling our nation’s most-pressing challenges. The 2021 Excellence in AmeriCorps award winners represent important examples of national service, responding to adversity with resourcefulness, creativity, and community-mindedness. Learn more about their work here.