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Philadelphia Consortium Projects - 2020

Homeless & Transitional Housing

Covenant House Pennsylvania


Behind the Scenes at Covenant House


Student Interns:

Brooke Bernardin, University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine

Alethia Li, University of Pennsylvania, School of Dental Medicine

Jingyu (Jennie) Zhang, University of Pennsylvania, School of Nursing


Academic Preceptors:

Hillary Bogner, MD, MSCE, University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine

Joan I. Gluch, PhD, RDH, PHDHP, University of Pennsylvania, School of Dental Medicine

Ann L. O’Sullivan, PhD, FAAN, CRNP, University of Pennsylvania, School of Nursing

Christopher Renjilian, MD, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia


Community Preceptors:

Aimee Della Porta, LCSW, Covenant House PA Clinic 

Christopher Renjilian, MD, Covenant House PA Clinic


Community Site: 

Covenant House Pennsylvania offers housing and support services to homeless youth aged 18 to 21 throughout the Philadelphia metropolitan area. Crisis Care provides no-barrier, safe, short-term housing to meet young people’s most urgent needs; the longer-term transitional housing, Rights of Passage, assists those who are ready to move on to independent living. Covenant House provides a full range of services, including case management, on-site healthcare, counseling, continuing education, job readiness assistance and more. It is designed to be a safe and secure environment where the youth can escape the hardships of the street and build the resilience necessary to overcome barriers and achieve self-sufficiency and success.



The Bridging the Gaps student interns worked with the Covenant House Clinic on multiple smaller-scale projects that included keeping track of relevant COVID-19 updates from Philadelphia Department of Health press conferences, creating health education materials, tutoring, compiling health resources for use by staff and residents, and creating surveys. The health education materials, which took the form of pamphlets or flyers, addressed topics of general health (oral health, immunization), sexual health (PrEP, STIs, birth control), healthy relationships and parenting, and stress management (mindfulness, exercise). The interns also organized and helped to compile a resource guide for dental care, vision care, mental health, sexual and reproductive health, substance use resources, physical activity, immigration/legal services, etc., as well as a COVID-19 wellness packet of resources that would be helpful for youth in quarantine. Surveys addressed COVID-19 health behaviors and perceptions, clinic satisfaction and use of tobacco products.


Intern Statements: 

Brooke Bernardin: “Being a medical student during the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough because my training has not yet progressed to the point where I can be a part of the COVID-19 medical response. However, now is the time that I especially want to be engaged in helping the Philadelphia community. The BTG CHIP experience has provided me with an opportunity to do valuable work for Covenant House PA using the skills that I have learned in my medical and public health courses. It was inspiring to work with youth who have been resilient in the face of challenges and to interface with staff who demonstrated such profound care and respect for the youth with whom they work. Furthermore, through creating surveys and educational pamphlets with a focus on strength-based communication and accessibility for a range of medical literacy levels, I have been able to deepen my understanding of health communication. I will undoubtedly take these skills with me into both future clinical work and future public health work.”


Alethia Li: “In the light of the global pandemic, it’s unfortunate that the BTG interns didn’t get to be on site and connect directly with the youth at Covenant House. Yet, through working with the compassionate and supportive staff who have witnessed the growth of the youth, I’m amazed to learn about the residents’ strength and resilience despite what they have gone through. Serving behind the scenes this summer deepened my understanding of what it means to meet people where they are. Everyone has a story; it’s important to respect, value and honor diversity while identifying strengths. During the process of creating assessment surveys and health educational materials for the residents, I noticed that I began to frame interventions in a trauma-sensitive and strength-based way after learning more about the social and health impacts of trauma and homelessness. This summer, I’ve also gained a greater insight into strength-based care. I think this approach can enable self-empowerment and self-determination through encouraging individuals to take ownership of their health by focusing on the innate strengths at individual, family and community levels. I hope to always highlight the importance of strength-based practices in my future career as a dentist when delivering care to the people in the community.”


Jingyu (Jennie) Zhang: “The BTG CHIP experience has greatly impacted my professional and personal development by reminding me of the importance of building trust as a first step in providing care. In the light of racial injustice as manifested in the Black Lives Matter movement and protests, as well as by the background of the youths we interacted with at Covenant House, it is imperative to know that we should not assume that the individual we serve will automatically trust the healthcare professional. As the population we worked with was a population that experienced much trauma, it was important for us to first build a relationship of trust with these individuals, before we can ask sensitive and probing questions with the expectation that they will respond truthfully, if at all. In addition, this program has led me to be more aware of my own use of language, such as the connotations certain phrases may convey, or just the fact that I may be communicating at a level that the patient may not understand.”

Depaul USA Philadelphia 


Forming Connections in the Time of COVID-19: Depaul USA — Summer 2020


Student Interns:

Courtney Eng, Drexel University College of Medicine

Amanda Horowitz, Drexel University College of Medicine

Joseph Norton, Drexel University College of Medicine


Academic Preceptor:

Janet Cruz, MD, Drexel University College of Medicine 


Community Preceptors:

Michelle Abbruzzese, MSS, Depaul House

Tamara Coleman, St. Raymond’s House 

Shahid Guyton, St. Joseph’s House 


Community Sites:

Depaul House provides services for men experiencing homelessness. These services include basic housing, case management, connections to employment, health education, behavioral health therapy, financial literacy, budgeting and peer support. All services are delivered in a trauma-informed, recovery-oriented, strengths-based environment. The program aims to stabilize each individual and work with him to obtain permanent housing. 


St. Raymond’s House provides permanent supportive housing for men and women experiencing homelessness and chronic health conditions. St. Raymond’s House works with residents to bridge the gap in access to services by providing case management and connecting residents to healthcare, as well as providing nutrition counseling, therapeutic groups and activities, computer literacy tutoring and harm-reduction focused recovery counseling. St. Raymond’s House uses a strengths-based approach to care, promoting the self-determination and autonomy of each resident. 


St. Joseph’s House provides stable and safe housing and services to college students experiencing the immediate crisis of homelessness. The program aims to support students as they continue and complete their studies. This is achieved through various services that include basic housing, case management, counseling referrals, transportation, food stipends, textbook assistance and educational reimbursements. 



The Bridging the Gaps student interns at Depaul USA worked to support community preceptors and residents by identifying areas of interest in health education and completing advocacy materials, including flyers, brochures and keychain cards. The material included information regarding harm reduction, practices for recognizing and responding to opiate overdoses, and anti-bullying resources. They also gathered information regarding various activities, such as accessing outdoor spaces and farmers markets in Philadelphia and easy recipes to make using few ingredients on a hotplate. In addition, they conducted a variety of interviews with residents at their sites to become acquainted with the population they have been working to serve. Interns held mindfulness meditation sessions with residents to discuss stress reduction techniques during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Intern Statements:

Courtney Eng: “My experience with St. Raymond’s House this summer helped me to deepen my understanding of some of the challenges that homeless individuals can face. I realized that one of the ways I can support individuals in this community is by being present to listen, and meeting and working with them where they are. Doing so also showed me the importance of finding creative ways to establish trust and build relationships with members of my community site, even from a distance. Furthermore, forming these connections has served as a reminder of why I was motivated to pursue a career in medicine to begin with. As I move forward with my medical education and training, I know that my time with St. Raymond’s will stay with me forever and will foster my growth into a physician who will provide more well-rounded and compassionate care to the communities I will serve in the future.” 


Amanda Horowitz: “Working with Bridging the Gaps taught me the importance of building community relationships. As a future physician, I am more and more aware of how my future career is not going to be just one ‘thing.’ I will take the invaluable relationships with communities I have been a part of this summer with me for the rest of my life. These relationships allowed me to adapt my skill set to the needs of those I serve. I developed better communication skills as I reached out to residents via many different modes of communication. I loved working with our community preceptors, a truly essential position at St. Joseph’s House. Their positivity and encouragement helped connect me to the community of residents despite the distance. I look forward to continuing to work with the Depaul USA organization to incorporate stress reduction techniques into residents’ daily lives.” 


Joseph Norton: “Working with Depaul House this summer has provided me an in-depth look at some of the challenges homeless and previously homeless individuals face. Prior to my experiences at Depaul House I naively thought I understood many of the barriers individuals working to overcome poverty and homelessness face. However, I now appreciate how complex and layered these issues are. For individuals experiencing poverty, something as simple as accessing green spaces for the fresh air and exercise benefits becomes a question of whether they have access to the internet, transportation and disposable income. Addressing seemingly simple needs requires understanding both the root cause as well as the practical limitations present. I absolutely will be more cognizant of these needs as I progress in my medical training and will seek out ways to address them in my role as a physician. Additionally, I developed skills in health interviewing, collaboration with peers and project management. I will miss working with the Depaul House team and residents and am grateful for the opportunity to assist them this summer.”





Monument Village


Providing Homes and Resources to Women in Need


Student Intern:

Aliya Hutman-Zahler, Drexel University College of Medicine


Academic Preceptor:

Leon McCrea II, MD, MPH, FAAFP, Drexel University College of Medicine


Community Preceptor: 

Michelle Flowers, MA, Methodist Services 


Community Site:

Monument Village is a long-term, HUD-subsidized housing program located on Methodist Services’ 22-acre property near Wynnefield. It is one of several housing options that Methodist Services offers to families in need. Monument Village provides not only a safe and stable environment to families, but also childcare, case management and behavioral health services. During their time at Monument Village, residents are strongly encouraged to pursue employment and educational advancement, with an ultimate goal of becoming independent. 



The Bridging the Gaps student intern surveyed the residents at Monument Village to understand what topics they most needed information on and to build a relationship with the women. Each week had a new theme and included a 15- to 30-minute Zoom presentation and accompanying handouts distributed through email. Topics included COVID-19 and the reopening of Philadelphia; credit scores and an intro to building credit; adult high school and GED programs; dual enrollment for high school students; an introduction to first-time home buying; and resources for children, with an emphasis on the impact COVID-19 has had on traditional in-person education. 


Intern Statement:

Aliya Hutman-Zahler: “Spending my summer with the women of Monument Village has been invaluable. In the classroom, we learn about substance abuse disorders, domestic violence and experiencing homelessness. It is easy to distance yourself from these realities when you are in school mode — focusing on studying and upcoming exams. My time at Monument Village reminded me that these issues are real, they are prevalent, and they demand attention. The women I interacted with were the epitome of the word ‘resilient.’ The topics they were most interested in learning about had to do with advancing their situation and creating a better future for their children, despite the many challenges they have dealt with thus far. The staff at Monument Village are incredibly supportive, and they want to empower each resident to take control of their situations and their lives. I know I will take the lessons I learned this summer into my future profession and always advocate for better lives for my patients.” 



Corporal Michael J. Crescenz Veterans Affairs Medical Center


My Life, My Story: Bridging the Gaps Edition


Student Interns: 

Varun Chahal, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Program

Siriluk Geytenbeek, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Program

Joseph Romero, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Program

Robert Schlitt, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Program


Academic Preceptors: 

Robert Dustin, MA, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine

Meshonea Fox, BA, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine


Community Preceptor: 

Melissa A. Heinlein, PhD, CAVS, Chief, Voluntary Service, Corporal Michael J. Crescenz Veterans Affairs Medical Center


Community Site: 

Corporal Michael J. Crescenz Veterans Affairs Medical Center provides healthcare services to veterans in southeastern Pennsylvania and Southeastern New Jersey.



The Bridging the Gaps student interns worked with the My Life, My Story program. The interns were responsible for conducting one-on-one phone interviews with a number of veterans and for completing short first-person narratives for each one. The open-ended interviews give voice to each veteran’s unique life experience, which commonly yields clinical information that otherwise may have gone undetected. The narratives are then incorporated into their medical charts to give their providers the resources to deliver more effective patient-centered care. 


Intern Statements:

Varun Chahal: “The BTG CHIP program this past summer gave me the opportunity to learn more about the myriad problems facing impoverished and underserved communities and how to address these problems as future healthcare professionals. I really enjoyed listening to fresh, new perspectives and voices that have made me change my perspective on issues I have seen before. Personally, I realize the importance of empathy and establishing trust with people along with, more importantly, relationships.” 


Siriluk Geytenbeek: “This summer, the BTG CHIP program opened my eyes to the alarming number of underserved communities and healthcare disparities on a state and national level. In a way, I learned to be a more empathetic and active listener while broaching sensitive and uncomfortable controversial issues within the veteran demographic. I saw that at the end of the day, people just want someone to listen and genuinely care. No matter where I go in life and in my career, I know that will always be applicable.” 


Joseph Romero: “The BTG program was a captivating experience that [enhanced] my knowledge of socioeconomic disparities manifesting in healthcare and society. The lectures I learned were insightful and gave me the tools to help upskill my cultural humility. In interviewing our veterans, I found their stories to be interesting and inspiring. Many veterans were very receptive to converse and enjoyed having someone to talk to during the COVID pandemic. I appreciate BTG for giving me the opportunity to make a positive impact in the lives of our proud veterans during such a difficult time.” 


Robert Schlitt: “Having the opportunity to work with the My Life, My Story program was an eye-opening experience that I will carry with me throughout my medical career. The men I had the chance to interview and learn about their lives have greatly impacted my outlook on the veteran population. I enjoyed talking with these men as well as fostering a deeper relationship between the veterans themselves and their care team. I was honored to help and learn from these brave men.”

Covenant House
Depaul House
Monument Village
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