NCHEC is extremely proud of the many health CHES® and MCHES® who serve as essential personnel in many different sectors across the US. Health Education Specialists have assumed critical roles in the identification, control, and assurance of the needs of individuals and communities. They advocate fiercely for public protection measures, and support many other critical health education and health behavior measures. As our nation continues to move forward in addressing and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of a competent certified health education workforce is as significant and essential as ever before.
The following interview is part of a new series to highlight the remarkable work efforts of our credential-holders.
Name: Justin Kolosky, BS, CHES®
NCHEC: What is your current job title and where do you work?
Justin: My job title is Supplemental Needs Coordinator at The Village for Families & Children, Inc., a non-profit organization located in Hartford, Connecticut. We provide a full range of behavioral health, early childhood and youth development, substance use treatment, and support services for families in the Greater Hartford area.
NCHEC: What are your job duties as a Supplemental Needs Coordinator?
Justin: My job responsibilities include coordinating and supervising the agency's supplemental needs program, which provides food, clothing, hygiene items, diapers, and other needed supplies for the families we service; advocating for food security programs with state senators and representatives; disseminating information regarding resources for basic human needs to families and agencies in the communities we serve; and establishing relationships with donors and benefactors that want to provide for our agency.
NCHEC: How has your role changed as a result of COVID-19?
Justin: At the beginning of the pandemic, our agency closed all of their service locations, which shut down the resources our families depended on. After a month, I returned to my office and restarted our supplemental needs distribution program for our workers and families, despite the agency still being closed. My duties cannot be performed remotely, so I made the decision to return as soon as I could so we could continue to provide my services, which were amplified by the loss of jobs and income, the increasing cost of child care for parents, and the difficulties people experienced being unable to find food and clothing while stores were shut down. I was also tasked with compiling information about various outside programs and agencies that I could distribute to workers and families that needed help beyond what we could provide.
NCHEC: Give an example of how your organization is providing health education & support to families and communities during the era of COVID-19.
Justin: My typical duties pre-pandemic included providing nutrition education to families that utilized our food pantry services, advocating for the continuation and expansion of the supplemental needs program using Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and working with workers and families to educate them on how to use local, state and federal programs to increase their ability to provide better health outcomes for their families.
Justin Kolosky, CHES®, with a donation of baby formula received from a benefactor in August 2020. He was crowned the “Formula King” for his outstanding efforts.
Throughout the pandemic, I continued to provide those services, and started including information about how to prevent the spread of disease through hygiene and physical distancing, the importance of maintaining proper immune function through nutrition and hygiene practices, how to access healthcare services in the community, and the benefits of vaccines once they became available.
NCHEC: Have you experienced increased recognition of the role of the Health Education Specialist since the onset of COVID-19?
Justin: I have seen more positive change in public health in the previous twelve months than I've seen over the past ten years. I believe the pandemic, while an incredibly destructive and unprecedented event, showed the vulnerability of our current public health practices and the need to substantially improve them, and allowed us to see how what began as an isolated event quickly turned into a global crisis that necessitated a quick and coordinated response. However, recognition of the important role of Health Education Specialists remains relatively low compared to healthcare and emergency service workers.
NCHEC: What advice do you have for newly certified Health Education Specialists ready to enter the current work force?
Justin: My advice is to keep in mind this quote from the Greek philosopher Epictetus: “Even as the Sun doth not wait for prayers and incantations to rise, but shines forth and is welcomed by all, so thou also wait not for clapping of hands and shouts and praise to do thy duty; nay, do good of thine own accord, and thou wilt be loved like the Sun."