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Public Health Students Organize Club to Advocate for Health with Residents of Local Shelter

CHAMPS member Christine Cecil, MPH '17, interacts with children at the Eliza Shirley House.

December 8, 2015

On Thursday nights, a team of students from the Dornsife School of Public Health’s Coalition for Health Advocacy through Multidisciplinary Partnerships (CHAMPS) club can be found providing health advocacy and educational support at the Eliza Shirley House, an emergency shelter for homeless single women and children in Center City Philadelphia.

CHAMPS puts lessons in the classroom into practice in the community. The club began as a collaboration between Dornsife School of Public Health students and Drexel University College of Medicine students to promote health education and advocacy for an underserved population in the Philadelphia community.

Started as a student club by Joohee Lee, MPH ’15, with help from Kim Peifer, MPH ’15 and Evan Gooberman, MPH ’15, Lee’s original vision for the club was to “foster a sense of inter-disciplinary collaboration among students which is critical in developing comprehensive solutions to current health issues,” Lee said.   

Through her brother, a student at the Drexel University College of Medicine, Lee learned about DUCOM’s Health Outreach Project (HOP) Clinics that provide medical care in different locations, including Eliza Shirley, as part of the College of Medicine’s community outreach. Lee recognized a need and opportunity to expand services to include health advocacy and education. CHAMPS volunteers go to Eliza Shirley House on Thursday nights and host “tea time” for the mothers—an hour-long discussion on specific health topics determined beforehand by the volunteers. In order to have meaningful conversations with mothers, CHAMPS also offers baby-sitting services. Additionally, a health advocacy volunteer is available to address specific questions the mothers may have.

Lee used her work with CHAMPS as the basis for her Community-Based Master’s Project in her second year and her work on conceptualizing and establishing CHAMPS earned her the School of Public Health’s Public Health Practice Award for Students in June 2015. Lee now works as a consultant for government healthcare solutions at Navigant Consulting and works on her non-profit, World Peace Cake on the side. 

When asked why she got involved with CHAMPS, current club president Christina Bowles, MPH ’16, said that she “wanted to put public health into practice and not just sit and talk about it.” CHAMPS provided her with access to working with communities and a chance to develop her skills as a public health student. It was a chance to help underserved populations, be immersed in the community, and make a difference.

Lee said that one of the challenges for the women CHAMPS serves at the Eliza Shirley House is that “as a transient population, it is difficult to really implement monitoring and evaluation processes” but that volunteers “liked to measure success by individuals.” On the first volunteering session of fall 2015 after the summer hiatus, mothers were excited to see CHAMPS back in action. “Their excitement just let us know that the one hour we spend at Eliza Shirley House each week really makes a difference” Bowles added.

To volunteer at the Eliza Shirley House and join CHAMPS, please email for more information.