Courtesy of Brandon Tabula
Courtesy of Brandon Tabula

We all believe in being healthy and having access to the things that will make you healthier,” said Community Aid and Resources public health coordinator Vanessa Kies. “It’s just a human right.”

Community Aid and Resources (CARe) is a SOAR-registered organization in which UC Santa Cruz students research, plan and operate health clinics for people who are economically disadvantaged in Santa Cruz County. The organization is currently rallying its resources in preparation for a full-scale clinic coming up March 2 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Homeless Services Center in Santa Cruz.

CARe was formed in January of 2011 by UCSC alumna Sophia Petraki and other collaborators. Since spring quarter of 2012, CARe has been led by student and director Matthew Musselman.

Petraki modeled the organization to resemble a 23-year-old UC Berkeley organization, The Suitcase Clinic. For the past two years, CARe has picked up the mission laid out by the Suitcase Clinic: to provide free foot washing, haircuts, warm clothes, hygiene kits, doctor consultations and many more services.

CARe provides small-scale services like those offered by the Suitcase Clinic. In addition, some full-scale CARe clinics have also offered produce and consultations with dentists.

Each of the 40 current volunteers and members in CARe goes into a clinic with the same game plan.

“With the foot washing and the haircuts,” said CARe public health coordinator Vanessa Kies, “you’re giving the client real human-to-human contact. You’re having a conversation with them and not treating them like dirt on the street.”

Members of CARe notice that seemingly basic services protect against many health ailments. Foot washing aims to prevent fungus and legions.

“We saw a guy at the last clinic who had lots of cuts all over his feet,” said fundraising coordinator Yasmin Peled. “We were able to clean them out so his feet didn’t get infected and he doesn’t end up with something really serious.”

According to the Watsonville newspaper Register-Pajaronian, Eddie Tate, who was staying at the Salvation Army in November of 2011, said of CARe at the time, “I’m staying here right now with 30 other guys. They kick us out at 6 a.m. and then I don’t have anywhere to go, but I’ve been blessed right now, getting my nails clipped.”

CARe director Matthew Musselman said people who are economically disadvantaged need rejuvenation in emotional form just as much as physical form. Musselman first introduced a “pre-registration” structure at the full-scale clinic on Dec. 1. Now implemented at all full-scale clinics, it gives the clients a plan — a relatively small plan but one that translates into goals for the future.

“We have people sign their name and tell us which services they are looking forward to doing,” Musselman said. “We recognize a lot of clients don’t follow through with their plans, because they do not have a really predictable lifestyle. But when they do, they’re following through with a commitment, demonstrating that they want to seek help and want to improve their lives.”

CARe volunteers said they often form close bonds with their clients.

“You can see the gratification,” said training coordinator Patrick Huynh. “You know it’s real. During the clinic last quarter, there were times when people would come up and talk to me. I said, ‘Hey, let’s just sit down and talk.’”

CARe both conducts its own research and draws from professional insight in order to maximize its benefit for the underserved population.

Doctors from the Student Health Center communicate often with CARe members, to help the organization know which ailments most threaten people. Doctors have contacts with other public health workers and a beat on healthcare research — CARe applies both in the application of its scarce resources.

Musselman analyzes data from surveys that the organization asks its clients to complete at every clinic. Data has shown foot washing and haircuts are the most favored of currently offered services. As CARe grows, it plans to focus more energy on researching a population and specific area in depth, in an attempt to know which services will best suit that clinic even before said event happens.

In the fall of 2012, CARe had a seminar course held in Kresge College aimed at giving students tools to research health disparities in Santa Cruz and the rest of the United States. CARe is thankful Kresge College has worked to bring this class back in fall 2013 as an official class in the course catalog.

“We’re an action based organization,” Musselman said. “But in order to do that effectively you have to think critically about what you’re doing. So having an academic focus dedicated to improving the process of what we do helps us improve.”

In the move to open its umbrella of aid to a wider area of people who are economically disadvantaged, CARe hopes to begin collaborating with several graduate students at the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley. CARe hopes to extend its services outside of Santa Cruz and to a broader base — possibly to veterans and recently released prisoners.

In light of the organization’s growth over two years, Kies reflected on what it really means to “care.”

“We’re there to ease [and to] do what we can,” Kies said.