By Sarah Annecone
After graduating from college in Albuquerque, Lauren Marek was looking for a foot-in-the-door with public health. In her research, she came across the Public Health Associate Program (PHAP), a training program offered through the Centers for Disease Control. Created to both increase the work capacity of local health departments while encouraging young people to get public health experience, PHAP offers a two year paid position to entry level college graduates. Lauren applied and was assigned to Boulder County Public Health (BCPH). She had never been to Boulder before and she has fallen in love. At BCPH she began work immediately with “The Works,” BCPH’s syringe access program. She was then trained as an HIV-test counselor and noticed that there was overlap between the two populations she served. Lauren says she most enjoys the harm-reduction focused conversations with people accessing either program. She has learned to focus her attention on what the person receiving services is saying in the moment. She describes herself as “there to be a source of support and advocate for people on their journey to improving their health.”
Loving this work and seeking to expand her experience with other populations, Lauren reached out to BCAP’s HIV-prevention staff and began to volunteer her time as an HIV test counselor for BCAP. As Lauren spent an increasing amount of time with BCAP’s Atlas Program staff and volunteers, she officially joined Atlas as a volunteer. Lauren says she “loves BCAP as an organization. I love hearing the stories of the program participants, with their varied backgrounds.” Being a part of Atlas is “low stress! It is a lot of fun hanging out with such a welcoming community of people.”
Lauren’s third volunteer role with BCAP has been as a BCPH representative on the agency’s Programs Committee. She says it is always interesting to get updates on relevant data; to hear what other health groups represented on the committee are working on; and what’s happening in the community from different perspectives. Being on the committee, she also shares what BCPH is working on as well.
When asked what advice she has for other BCAP volunteers, Lauren says “Be available to offer genuine and honest support and be open to new experiences. Challenge yourself to do things that make you uncomfortable.”
In her spare time, Lauren enjoys painting landscapes and flowers with oils and acrylics. She loves being outdoors in Colorado nature: running, hiking, and biking.
Lauren’s two-year training program has come to a close and she is currently deciding between Albuquerque and Portland OR, for a summer start to medical school. Lauren, we wish you all the very best in making the difficult choice of where to pursue the next leg of your own journey and send you off with deep gratitude for all you’ve done and for the ready smile you’ve brought to all your work. Regardless of where you go, the world is lucky to have you learning more about how to best support people’s good health. Cheers to your bright future!