CU: Tell me about your project.
Vanessa Vigil: My project is still in the beginning phases, but the main focus of it is on healthcare disparities in the inner cities and what solutions we can provide to people in this community. Should it be more hands-on training, better education for the community, or literacy courses? No matter what, I think we need to come at this from a different angle. I work as a Community Outreach Specialist for Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island (NHPRI) and my work has helped me to shape my project and talk to people, like the Chief Medical Officer of NHPRI, to help advance my project beyond the beginning phases.
CU: Your project is focused on healthcare disparities in urban communities. What communities do you serve in your current work with Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island?
VV: My work with NHPRI takes me throughout Rhode Island, to suburban, urban, and rural communities. This is how I know there is a disparity. All of these communities have the same problems with healthcare but urban communities are experiencing a gap in knowledge or action that is just not present in rural and suburban communities.
CU: When was the last time your project inspired you, or humbled you?
VV: [This happens] every day when I go out and interact with people. I hear about their struggles and oftentimes it’s something as small as someone who stopped taking their medication because they don’t know they can just call the pharmacy and refill their prescription. And it’s very sad that I see things like this on a daily basis. I also see how much offering them the know-how and advice really affects their lives. We touch their lives in ways that no one else has before. So it’s a constant, daily inspiration to keep doing my project so that I can learn something different and help these communities.
CU: What is the next step in your project?
VV: My first step is to survey the communities I want to serve. Are there changes being made that connect to my project? Is there more outreach, more home visits being done? I want to know more of what’s going on in the community to help bridge the healthcare gap. That way, when I progress to the stage in my project where I am meeting with higher-ups, I can share the stories and advocate for people in the right way!
CU: How did you come to College Unbound (CU) and what effects have you seen in your life as a result of being at CU?
VV: My pursuit of a bachelor’s degree has been…sporadic! [laughs]. I always knew I wanted to get my degree but I would always get in my own way. Everyone in my family has a degree, I was just being lazy. I had started at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) and did all my prerequisites for nursing (because I want to be a nurse, eventually) but I just wasn’t motivated. I took classes at CCRI on and off since 2007 before I stopped going. There was a three-year gap between leaving CCRI and starting CU. But since I have been here at CU, I know this is the type of structure I need. Nobody allows you to fail, give up, or let yourself down. Everyone, from the advisors and the staff to the students in the cohort, is so supportive that every time I think about giving up, they don’t let me! And that’s been key to my continued journey.
CU: In the spirit of giving back and using your voice to help others, who would you like to spotlight for helping you and your project thus far?
VV: I definitely have to shout out my two advisors Farrah [Bruny] and Sandra [Peltier]. They’re like yin and yang. Farrah is very tough but loving and Sandra is so nurturing and really makes you feel like she cares. I can talk to both of them and know they are with me. And it’s so needed, especially when I start to feel frustrated. The advisors are, honestly, the reasons I have kept going.
I also wanted to highlight two students. Tamara [Cifredo], one of the newest students, has really been busting her butt. She doesn’t take no for an answer, and is so committed to doing well and succeeding. Sometimes, she will come over to my house and we will study together. The other student is Shevon [Young], who’s been through so much in her life but is back in full force, stronger than ever! She’s the best!
CU: Is there anything else you would like to say about your project, yourself, or CU?
VV: I feel like I’m accomplishing something and I am sticking to it. I’m able to juggle working full-time, being a mom, and going to school. I look at people who say they cannot do it and I think, “Yes, you can!”