Students receive free pre-school shots, physicals
UNIVERSITY AREA - Jovita Hercules had a revelation as rain-soaked families waited in line at a recent back-to-school health clinic at the University Area Community Health Center. She vowed to serve as a volunteer at the start-of-school festival next summer. Hercules wants to be a part of the Back to School Coalition of Hillsborough County. The group of volunteers has worked with the University Area Community Development Corp. the past eight years to stage an annual health festival. It has been held at the community health center on North 22nd Street in recent years. "I am so grateful," said Hercules, who lives in Brandon. "I want to volunteer next year. I don't want to take, take and take. It's not me."Hercules and her daughters, Delia, 11; and Monique, 17; waited about five hours Aug. 17 before the girls received free immunizations before beginning the new school year. Hercules took Delia and Monique to the event because she recently left a job, which caused her to lose health insurance, she said. About 300 families attended the clinic, despite constant downpours. They came from New Tampa, Tampa Heights and Brandon to comply with a state law proclaiming children entering school for the first time — or students whose vaccinations have lapsed — must receive immunizations and physicals. The free health clinic program is for children in kindergarten to 12th grade. The University Area Community Development Corp. and its vendors also distributed free school supplies. Most parents, volunteers and Development Corp. staff members attribute the successful local program to Martine Dorvil, the corporation's community outreach director. The nonprofit agency serves needy families in an unincorporated area of Hillsborough County west of the University of South Florida. "The message of the back-to-school festival is to make sure no child misses the first day of school due to a lack of immunizations or a physical," Dorvil said. Dorvil's boss, Dan Jurman, who serves as UACDC's executive director and chief executive officer, sees the volunteer program as a long-term investment in the future of area children. "One of the critical issues in our community right now is health outcomes," Jurman said. "Families have to choose between preventative health and paying the rent or buying groceries. Preventative health loses nearly every time. "That is why it is so important to help families keep their children healthy." The Back to School Coalition participated in health events at eight Hillsborough County sites from July 28 to Aug. 17. Through the years, the program has served nearly 24,000 children. The community health center at 13601 N. 22nd St. is one of the most well-attended health festival sites. Nearly 100 volunteer physicians, University of South Florida medical students, USF employees, area residents and UACDC staff members worked from 9 a.m. to late afternoon the day of the health fest. They assessed every child to determine the ones who needed to be immunized. Seeing the volunteers in action, parents such as Hercules said they came away with a greater appreciation for the work they do without pay. Hercules' commitment to volunteer next year made Hillsborough County Health Officer Doug Holt smile. The physician supervised the medical students, who administered the physicals at the event. Holt, who is a medical professor at USF, said more volunteers are needed and welcomed. Margaret Ewen, who manages the county health department's immunizations program, agreed. Ewen said she hopes more physicians — particularly pediatricians — and parents such as Hercules will join the volunteer force. Coalition members will start in January planning for the summer 2013 program, Ewen said. Its members include the county health department, University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine, Tampa General Hospital and Hillsborough County Health and Human Services to name a few. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer may contact Ewen at the health department at (813) 307-8000, ext. 7701.