Shortly after graduating from Kent State University, I began to prepare myself for life beyond college and the rolling midwestern plains that had been my home since birth. Aspiring to be an epidemiologist with the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), I knew that despite my degree, having little relatable experience would be a barrier to my ambitions. Refusing to defer my dream, I began searching for opportunities to gain the hands on, in-depth experience that would help me grow as both a health professional and a maturing adult.
It began with the guidance of my mother and a Google search, like all good things in life do (although not always simultaneously). My mom, who is a nurse, told me about AmeriCorps and the diverse programs it offers nationwide. I was immediately attracted to the direct service experience and the camaraderie of the program, and shortly thereafter discovered the National Health Corps (NHC). The NHC seemed like a perfect match for me because I sought to gain experience in the public health field and discover a new part of the country. Born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania, I wanted a change from the weather and decided to apply to the Florida program.
While long familiar with Florida, Jacksonville was an entirely new experience for me. Having visited the state throughout my youth, I had cherished memories from Orlando, Tampa Bay, Port St. Lucie, and Fort Lauderdale. However, North Florida was a territory yet to be discovered; I knew nothing about Jacksonville except that my father had been stationed at Naval Station Mayport over 30 years ago, fondly calling it his second home. Knowing little about the city except these warm memories of my father’s and the promise of wearing shorts in January, I packed up my car and journeyed South.
Within my first few weeks in Jacksonville, it began to feel like home. Growing up next to Lake Erie, I had always embraced living next to a large body of water and the activities it presented. Jacksonville offered everything Erie did and so much more. With the city centered on the St. Johns River and my apartment complex having water access, I could spend my sunsets relaxing on the dock and could fulfill my dream of getting a kayak. Being about a twenty minute drive from the ocean, I also have the opportunity to enjoy everything from biking to relaxing on Atlantic Beach after a hard, yet fulfilling week of service.
Beyond the waterways, I love experiencing the vibrant culture of Jacksonville. One of my favorite activities is going to the Art Walk on the first Wednesday of every month that takes place downtown. It is always enjoyable to see the numerous artisans selling their artwork while indulging in live music, watching the break dancers, and choosing from every imaginable kind of food truck. The Art Walk is a time when many of Jacksonville’s residents come together and revel in the colorful culture of the city. Beyond the borders of Jacksonville I have also been able to visit Universal Studios, Disney, and attend The Player’s Championship of the PGA tour.
Altogether, Jacksonville has quickly grown on me and like for my father, has become a second home. Since I love being active and going outdoors, Jacksonville has turned out to be a great city to satisfy my need for fresh air with beautiful parks, kayak-friendly rivers, and beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see. Further, my fellow NHC members have created a sense of community in a city that at first felt new and intimidating. I am looking forward to continuing my work in the public health field in Jacksonville when my service term is over.
This blog post was written by NHC FL member, Ian Fitzpatrick.
Ian served at UF Health- Healthy Start as a Care Coordinator.