Before joining Healthify as our Community Outreach Specialist, I worked as a school social worker in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Before that, I led counseling groups for GED students aged 16-21 in Jamaica, Queens, conducted countless student mediations in a Bronx High School, and taught English to 6th graders in a low-income Brooklyn school. In the education world, teachers and administrators alike are constantly referencing a five stage pyramid representative of our motivation system as humans: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Why? Because educators know how difficult it will be to teach a 12 year old boy how to solve a linear equation if he hasn’t had breakfast, a night’s sleep in a bed, and a conversation with an adult who knows and loves him.
I’ve provided counseling and case management services to students and parents alike who are all seeking attainment of one or more of the five levels on Maslow’s pyramid: physiological needs, safety and security, love and belongingness, self-esteem and - ultimately - self-actualisation. The pyramid flows bottom to top; Maslow believes that we must first satisfy our need to air, food, water, shelter, clothing and sleep before we can realize our need to find a job and visit the doctor. This is why I am thrilled to join Healthify. Healthify removes the problem of access to information by connecting staff at hard working organizations to the individuals that need them the most. What’s more, Healthify does this by using technology rarely used by the nonprofit sector to solve its problems.
Here’s an example, though, of how it’s working. A little over two years ago, The NYC Department of Education announced a School Choice Design Challenge, a competition for “software developers to design applications that will assist students and families during the high school choice process.” (The NYC high school application process is notoriously confusing and daunting; NYC has over 400 high schools and over 700 programs. Students are asked to list 12 high school programs on their application, in addition to an entirely separate process for Specialized High Schools). The result of the competition? Three high school admissions apps that allow students to easily access the 600 page high school directly on their smart phones.
What if the Department of Education launched a similar program, only for school social workers? What if Healthify was in every school based mental health clinic, clearly linking students to nearby food pantries and mental health clinics? What would it mean for educators and parents? What would it mean for social workers? When I imagine it, I picture myself in front of more students, with more time, and a slightly bigger grocery budget for my family (because I no longer need to stock my snack drawer).