Kerri Shaw joined the Ohio Alliance for Population Health in August 2021 as the Community Health Worker (CHW) Training Program Coordinator. Her connection to public health, though, started over 20 years ago.
On her 26th birthday, Kerri Shaw found herself trekking across rural Paraguay with the local Doctor from San Miguel de Misiones, Doctora Carmen. It was hot and humid, as always, and she had a sack of deep-fried cheese dough, Paraguayan “tortillas,” for lunch in her backpack. They were visiting rural homes to administer vaccines to children who did not have the means to travel to the health clinic. Kerri was a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay and, while her primary project was Municipal Services Development, she found herself engaged in library projects, youth development, environmental education, and health promotion in her small community.
Kerri graduated from Ohio University in 1996 with an undergraduate degree in social work and a dream to serve as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer. After practicing school social work in Marietta for two years, she was accepted and deployed to Paraguay. Her experience there taught her the importance of engaging the community in program assessment and development and gave her the skills to facilitate groups, provide leadership, navigate local and regional government, and practice cultural humility in another country. When she returned to Ohio, she decided to earn a master’s degree in Social Work Administration at Ohio University. Since her experience in Paraguay focused on municipal government and civic education, she landed in the former US Representative Ted Strickland’s Marietta office as an intern, where she served as an advocate for his constituents.
After working at Trimble Elementary Middle School and developing several successful programs including the now county-wide PB & J Program, Shaw took a position at Ohio University in the Department of Social Work as a Field Liaison and, later, Field Director. She was asked to take the lead on a MEDTAPP grant in 2015 to develop the Community Health Worker training program, which was certified in 2017 by the Ohio Board of Nursing. Since then, the CHW Program has become regional, with multiple grants supporting the training of community members with a passion to help their neighbors live healthier lives. In 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on and CHWs were being recognized for their frontline contributions to vaccine clinics, testing sites, and community education, Ohio University’s Alliance for Population Health and the College of Health Sciences and Professions recognized that it was time to have a faculty member fully dedicated to the CHW Training Program, and Kerri transitioned into the role of CHW Coordinator.
“I have witnessed the value of CHWs in our region and the passion that they bring to the work they are doing. They are truly meeting people where they are and walking alongside them to improve health outcomes in their communities, whether that be through chronic disease management, recovery from substance use disorder, or improving access to health care, CHWs do their work with a humility and cultural understanding that is powerful in and of itself.” While Shaw is no longer trekking around rural Paraguay, she does recognize the importance of bringing services to rural communities and doing so within trusting relationships, wherever she is.