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How Jenny Helps Refugees Navigate the American Healthcare System

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC

The medical field refers to that big idea as “person-environment fit theory.”

“People have an innate need to fit their environments and to seek out environments that match their own characteristics” – National Library of Medicine

Person-environment fit theory works similar to a puzzle. People seek out environments that complement their abilities and characteristics. The environment has a need, and the individual has characteristics that fit that need. When the two parties connect, the community thrives and the individuals know that they are valued.

As a Health Advocate volunteer, Jenny Brown sees the unique impact she has when walking alongside families. “That’s my person-environment fit. Definitely!”

Jenny first encountered World Relief at her church over 25 years ago. While reading the bulletin, Jenny’s eyes were drawn to a notice about a Vietnamese family who had recently arrived in Spokane. Jenny had wanted to go to Vietnam herself but was unable to.

“When I saw that bulletin come in, I just knew that was for me.”

Jenny Brown, Health Advocate

Jenny began to tutor the family and accompany them to medical appointments. Their friendship grew and the families kept in contact for many years.

“They came for Christmas morning.” They would even gather for holidays and special events.

“They came when I had my baby.”

After a while, Jenny needed to take a break from volunteering to focus on her family, but she never forgot about her experience volunteering with World Relief.

While working on her medical career, Jenny found herself looking for a place to volunteer. Although the obvious place would have been a hospital, Jenny wanted to work with refugees. One day, she found herself looking at the World Relief website…and the volunteer posting for a Health Advocate!

“That’s when I called and Kristin answered.” Kristin, volunteer coordinator, explained that the Health Advocate role was a new position at the Spokane office and subject to change as it developed.

The Health Advocate role focuses on empowering refugees in handling their own healthcare needs.

“We know how hard it is to navigate our medical system on our own. Try coming when you don’t know the language, you don’t understand the system, you’re from a culture that is very socially oriented and you depend on people.”

Jenny walks alongside clients as they navigate the healthcare system. After assisting an individual in scheduling an appointment, Jenny will often drive the client to the doctor’s office where she supports them and advocates for their medical needs.

A woman and her baby.

Throughout the process, Jenny coaches the family on scheduling appointments, referrals and prescription refills. She has accompanied families to MRI scans or the ER, and even held the hand of a mother as she gave birth to her first child.

“This is a process that takes time and patience,” said Jenny. “Each family’s needs are different. Some need more assistance than others.”

Currently Jenny is working closely with an Afghan family who arrived in January. She accompanied them to their first medical appointments and assisted them in communicating with the doctors.

The family has become very dear to Jenny. When she visited the hospital to pick up a family member, Jenny remembered them smiling and calling out, “my sister!”

“It has been one of the most meaningful jobs I have ever done,” said Jenny.

To break up the constant medical appointments, Jenny takes the family to the park or shopping. She insists that fun and sunshine are essential to mitigating stress.

Jenny remembers one springtime visit to the park. “They were picking flowers, and it was just so good.”

Paul, a case manager in Intensive Case Management, appreciates Jenny and the work she does with the family.

“She’s very detail-oriented, and she’s very caring,” Paul said. “Very determined and dedicated.”

Jenny doesn’t know what the future will look like, but she knows that she enjoys working with refugees.

She hopes more people will step up and walk alongside refugee families who are learning about the medical system. “All these steps of learning take time.”

In hope and prayer, Jenny invites the Spokane community to join her in volunteering at World Relief.

“There is an overwhelming need for people to come alongside refugees in Spokane, to help guide them through our daunting medical system and show them Christ’s love by being a friend.”

Will you be the answer to Jenny’s prayers?

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