Center for Interfaith Cooperation

Hoosiers of Many Faiths in Community

IRSC member Matt Ralls

Q: Who are you? Where’d you come from (geography, education, culture)?

Matt Rolls is on the left

Matt Rolls is on the left

Matt says: Well, for starters, my name is Matthew Ralls. I’m originally from Carmel, IN (I know) and went to Brebeuf Jesuit on the Northside of Indianapolis. I later when to Marquette University in Milwaukee to study Physical Therapy, but of course went through the requisite throes of trying to figure out what I actually wanted to study. After a few changes in my coursework, I ended up with a degree in Biomedical Sciences, but with a hearty and healthy interest in philosophy and politics. Mainly, I am interested in the intersection of medical best practice and social justice, specifically in how this plays out in our politics.

Q: Why did you join AmeriCorps?

Matt says: After graduating from Marquette, I actually joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. I served as a sort of “In-House Substitute Teacher” for the better part of a year, serving in Newark, New Jersey. When I came back to Indiana, I wanted to take a gap year between graduate school and the JVC, hopefully in something that related to health policy, social justice, and/or public health. I found out about the IRSC and CIC through a run-of-the-mill Google search, and am very thankful that I did. I had known about AmeriCorps whilst serving in JVC (most serving corps people know the various other kinds of programs people get into), and it sounded like a fun, yet distinctly different experience than the one I had in Newark.

Q: What are you doing for IRSC?

Matt says: I ask myself this all the time. My position is with Community Health Network, one of the largest hospital networks in Indy, as a Health Promotions Assistant. This is a thoroughly, and I’m sure intentionally, ambiguous title. CHN has never had an AmeriCorps member before, so this is really a learning experience for everyone involved. My task, for lack of better words, is to work with various programs within CHN, as well as in a Faith Health Initiative out of the CIC, to try and really define a niche for the AmeriCorps members after me. My goal is to create the position, basically.

What this looks like on a day-to-day basis, then, is doing a lot of research into general health trends affecting the city, and specifically the issues facing low-income immigrant/refugee communities. We’re really trying to establish a pilot program that can respond to health needs within different faith communities, and do so in a way that is sustainable and relying upon the resources already in the community. It’s easy to say, “Hey, let’s bring in all this outside stuff and just fix it!” But what is more important and long-lasting is trying to identify the strengths already existing within different communities and to empower them to serve their own community.

[Is that buzzword-y enough? Good.]

Public Health is really hard. And, when you want to look at it from a 30,000 foot level (which as an academic I have a tendency to do) almost anything can be seen as a health issue, This is really exciting for me because it enables me to draw attention to things that really matter to me, like public transit or housing or law enforcement, but it’s also really important to think practically and microscopically. Part of this year is just trying to get better at doing that.

Q: What next?

I’ll be attending the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University next fall to pursue an Masters of Public Health. I really fell in love with the East Coast when I lived in Newark, and it’s a great chance to work with some of the great minds in public health. Where that takes me is a harder question. I love talking politics and faith and philosophy and all other “liberal arts” things, but finding a way to really help the most disenfranchised is really difficult, sempiternal task {note: sempiternal = eternal, everlasting}. Hopefully I can figure something out about that. AmeriCorps gives me that first chance to serve in a more practical way than anything I’ve seen post college.

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