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Food insecurity outreach changes lives for both BW student and her clients

Public health major Hunter Welch ’22 at the Metro West Community Development Office.When Hunter Welch '22 raised her hand to participate in a new Baldwin Wallace University community outreach program to fight food insecurity more than a year ago, she had no idea how much her own life would be changed by the experience.

Using state AmeriCorps grant funding, administered by ServeOhio, BW and community partners launched an effort to reduce food insecurity in underserved Cleveland communities, giving BW students paid, hands-on experience in a public health community partnership.

Becoming a bridge

After working on a food insecurity research project as an independent study with Dr. Laura Hopkins, Welch was naturally drawn to the opportunity to serve as a "community health navigator" supporting the program known as Community Health and Nutrition Guided Empowerment through Integration of Navigators in Cleveland (CHANGE, INC.).

"My research project showed how access to resources is a huge factor in food insecurity," Welch says. "I wanted to help be that bridge that would connect people to resources that are already there."

From farm to urban outreach

Welch is a public health major and is already accepted into medical school under a BW primary healthcare advancement early acceptance partnership. A natural helper, Welch grew up on a farm in Caldwell, Ohio, where she serves as an EMT and firefighter. She plans to return home to practice medicine.

"This project connects to my vision of what my job as a family physician will be. Patients can't be healthy if they don't have everything they need to take good care of themselves," said Welch, who is also a Choose Ohio First STEM Scholar. The innovative scholarship program provides students with holistic support as they prepare for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Obstacles to trust

When COVID-19 converted the original vision for in-person outreach to connections with clients by virtual platforms or telephone, Welch encountered roadblocks but persevered.

"A big part of community outreach is earning trust, and with added language barriers, it could be hard for them to believe I was reaching out to help," Welch says.

To overcome mistrust, she wrote letters to tell them about herself and life on a farm with 300 cows, enclosing a picture that one client later told her was posted on her refrigerator with "family and friends."

Going above and beyond

Hunter Welch ’22 (right) and her CHANGE, INC. client Betty Jo Palmer (left) at an event Palmer organized to bring her community together to discuss the future of a local Cleveland park. Eventually, Welch not only found herself connecting her clients to resources but forging her own personal connections with them.

"We discussed serious issues, and I was able to arrange counseling services for a client who was experiencing social isolation during COVID," Welch says.

She watched clients get healthier, lose weight with access to nutritious food and found stable apartment housing for clients facing homelessness.

Lasting impact

While part of the project is tracking how the outreach worked to reduce food insecurity, Welch says she learned so much more than she ever imagined from the experience, mostly about people from different backgrounds and cultures.

"BW is a proud grantee of AmeriCorps," says Valerie Beutel, BW's CHANGE, INC. AmeriCorps director. "The funding provides BW students like Hunter a unique opportunity to make a difference in the community through direct service and civic participation while gaining professional experience in the public health field. Hunter along with the community members she serves have demonstrated their dedication to bridging divides, tackling their most pressing health concerns and making a lasting impact through national service."

About ServeOhio

Serve Ohio logoServeOhio, Ohio's governor-appointed commission on service and volunteerism, strengthens Ohio communities through AmeriCorps and volunteer engagement. Through programs and initiatives funded and supported by ServeOhio, thousands of Ohioans of all ages engage in and are recognized for their service. Interested participants can learn more about ServeOhio at or on Facebook and Twitter.

Americorps logo

About Americorps

AmeriCorps is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency for volunteering, service and civic engagement. The agency engages millions of Americans in citizen service through its AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs and leads the nation's volunteering and service efforts. For more information, visit


CHANGE, INC. supports a collaborative between BW's Center for Health Disparities Research and Education, The MetroHealth System, Metro-West Community Development Organization and Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation. Read more about the partnership here.

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