PNWU Students Inspire Others to Give Back Through Partnership with Yakima Neighborhood Health Services 

As a second-year student, PNWU’s Daniel Ojala was driven to help one of Yakima’s most vulnerable populations, spearheading a push to organize a partnership program with Yakima Neighborhood Health Services (YNHS). As the end of the school year approached, Ojala prepared to move away from Yakima for his third-yer rotations. Before doing so, however, he met with PNWU students Kathryn Wanat and Jamie Welch — then first-year students— passing the reigns onto them before leaving campus. 

YNHS aims to provide affordable, accessible, quality health care, promote learning opportunities for students of health professions, end homelessness and improve quality of life in our communities.  

On Monday, Welch and Wanat, who have led the partnership program for the past year, met with the next generation of program leaders, sharing their experiences, advice and words of encouragement in hopes that the recently-formed partnership will continue to grow and flourish as they too move onto rotations. 

“I became interested in the program instantly and feel a strong draw to the struggles so often seen in homeless populations,” explained Welch. “I have always found myself interested in their stories and wonder often about the lives that led up to life on the street.” Welch’s interest was spurred when she met a man in downtown Bellingham who was selling CD’s he had made from his favorite artists at the local library. 

“As we chatted, he explained to me that the most difficult thing about being homeless wasn’t the daily struggle of basic needs going unmet, but being invisible,” she explained. “It was the people constantly walking by, avoiding eye contact and ignoring him when he spoke to them. He thanked me for “seeing him”, handed me the CD I bought and meandered on. That interaction inspired me to be a part of, and pour my time into, this program. People deserve to be seen, and their stories deserve to be acknowledged.” 

Now moving onto rotations herself, Welch hopes to see the partnership continue to grow. 

“My hope for the new leadership team is that they dream big for those who cannot always do so. I hope that they hear so many stories and, through those relationships, are given the opportunity to bring healthcare to those who desperately need it. I hope that with each year of this program we learn more about the specific struggles of the Yakima homeless population through research and volunteer experience and with each year more awareness is drawn towards a population with so many barriers to healthcare. This partnership program will hopefully become a significant source of both funding and volunteers for YNHS, and also provide a path for future physicians to have the opportunity to develop the kind of compassion and understanding needed to work with a population so often misunderstood and misrepresented.”