It is easy to slip through the safety net for those who have lost or never found their voice: those who are homeless because of problems with mental illness or the relentless grip of addiction, for example, or those struggling to put food on the table in a land whose language and ways are still mysterious. For these thousands of voiceless, a few moments of understanding and dignity can seem as important as health care. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center tries to provide some of both to these vulnerable populations. In return, these voiceless do speak—and become some of the center’s most important teachers. Lessons learned in these exchanges, about looking below the surface, about the healing power of touch and respect, help Emory’s future doctors, physician assistants, nurses, and public health practitioners provide the kind of care most needed.

Georgia’s migrant farm workers have little time, less money, and zero coverage to seek out health care. That’s why each summer, faculty and students from the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing go to them, in the rural areas in South Georgia where they work. Thanks to a Farm Worker Family Health Program founded 12 years ago, each year 1,000 migrant workers and their children receive free health assessments, including pap smears and treatment for problems such as muscle strains, foot fungus, eye infections, skin rashes, and diabetes.
     For years, faculty and students crammed all their care into a two-week period. Now, thanks to a grant from the Georgia Health Foundation, students are able to return during the year. For many of the workers and their children, this is the only health care they ever get. And for the nursing students, helping provide that care is often their first opportunity to see what an enormous difference they can make in the community.

The special of the day at Café 458 may be chicken, pizza, or any of a dozen other dishes, but what’s always on the menu are respect and dignity. Those are particularly delicious dishes for many of the customers, homeless men and women struggling with addiction, mental illness, and severe physical disabilities but eager to achieve personal goals that will keep them off the street and make them more self-sufficient.
     At Café 458, people for whom so many doors have been closed, for whom meals often entail standing in a long line, instead sit down at a table with a tablecloth and fresh flowers, order from a menu of healthy lunch choices, and are served by a volunteer waiter as would happen in any restaurant. During weekend brunches, when the restaurant allows the ordinary public to eat alongside the homeless, the feeling of inclusion in ordinary society grows even stronger. In fact, tied as it is to so many important social services, the café’s motto is that a choice from the menu is simply a starting point in the process of empowerment. It seems to be working. Since Café 458 was founded almost 20 years ago by nursing faculty member Ann Connor and her husband, she and many other nursing faculty and staff have spent countless hours working in this and related programs. Nationwide, 90% of people who complete a recovery program relapse within six months. By contrast, two-thirds of all graduates of the café’s recovery program remain clean and sober during the same time period, making the program a prototype for others.

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