January: Sports, Physical Education, Physical Recreation, and Wellness
We are honoring YPs improving New York through their work in the sports, physical education, physical recreation, and wellness spheres.
Congratulations to our January Spotlights of the Month, Kara Hoffman and Sherrise Palomino!
Kara Hoffman, MPH
In a sense I’ve come full circle in my career from where it began in the Bronx in 2013. I’ve always had a passion for educating so I did a service year in a school in Hunts Point, thinking I was just buying time until I applied to physical therapy school. But instead of being focused on my actual job, I was overwhelmed by my students lack of access to health services and education. I had to do something about it. So I pursued my Master of Public Health in Maternal and Child Health and have not looked back since. And a lot of what has gotten me to where I am today is my perseverance and passion for what I do every single day. Growing up I didn’t have access to much health education, especially anything to do with sexual and reproductive health. As I progressed through my career, I realized my experiences growing up had ignited a deep passion within me to educate young people in ways I never had. When I saw the job posting at Montefiore for this position within the oldest and largest school-based health center program in the country, I knew I had to apply. Though I am not from the Bronx, if I can empower young people to become leaders in their communities that inspire change then I will have done my job.
I am most proud of my flexibility, my understanding, and my humility learned through travel and new experiences. In the last 10 years I have traveled, lived, and worked all over the United States and the world. I spent a summer in Alaska learning how to improve access to healthcare for rural populations with literally no access to cities or resources. I attended graduate school in New Orleans and took a short-term job in Washington State, just to name a few. But through all my travels I have learned and grown both personally and professionally. I can see things from many different perspectives. I have lived in countries where I could not communicate verbally with anyone around me, yet I still formed lasting relationships. Yes, every time I’ve moved I’ve been absolutely terrified – at least for a little bit. But I’ve pushed through those fears and found new strength in myself.
If flexibility is not your strong suit now, work on getting more comfortable with it! Public health is inherently tied to peoples’ beliefs and values so there are emotions present. In a more literal sense I mean to say that public health is also tied to politics. We’re a largely grant-funded field, at least in the social and behavioral end of it that I work in. That means jobs can come and go very quickly, which is just as unsettling to experience as it sounds. But the flexibility of the field is what makes it fun and dynamic. We’re always learning new things in the broader health field, so it’s a great place to be if you like learning and innovation. Science and health jobs are not just ‘lab’ jobs like people can make it seem!
I have a hard time truly calling myself a New Yorker as I have still only been here since 2013, and not even that entire time. However, I did have a defining moment one day sitting in front of the TV in Washington when that notorious Sex and the City theme song started playing. As soon as I saw the city – not even any of the women! – I burst into tears. I missed New York so much it hurt, despite the fact that I had just moved across the country by choice. I called my best friend, who I live with today, and told her about my tears and about how everyone moving slowly in Washington irritated me and how I felt like I’d lost my spark. So I consider it more my first real step to becoming a New Yorker. I have a long way to go!
I interned at UNA-USA on a pilot program called HERO. We served rural communities decimated by HIV/AIDS in four African countries. The goal was to provide educational and social support to schools in communities with extremely high HIV/AIDS prevalence—essentially communities where most children had been orphaned by the pandemic. The impact was demonstrable and real. I was moved and inspired. HIV/AIDS became my focus. I wanted to change the trajectory for people impacted by the disease and stop others from getting it. After that internship, I started a career in HIV prevention at the AIDS Center of Queens County working with targeted high risk populations. Then at BronxWorks focusing solely on adolescence in the South Bronx. The work I did in public health became pillars of my career. It enabled me to build my career in several different ways that also lead me to New York Road Runners.
Through the sexual health program I managed at BronxWorks I demonstrated and taught youth about disease prevention, leadership, community health and advocacy. It’s amazing to work and watch youth as they develop and shape their worlds. There’s so many economic barriers and structural racism that young people growing up in many NYC communities have to overcome. These kids are beating the odds and their zip codes aren’t limiting their destinies. And I’m proud to have been a piece of that.
Create your own opportunities. Don’t get discouraged when it seems like things aren’t working out. The dots will eventually connect. Be open to the challenges in front of you. They are only roadblocks. It’s okay go in a new direction even if it takes you longer or down a different road. You can still get to your destination. It’s not how you got there. It’s that you arrived. When you arrived, no matter how beaten and fatigued you are. Pull yourself together. Take a seat at the table and let them know the value in front of them.
I was born in Brooklyn. But I think the realization came when I was in elementary school at PS 251. As kids you start to label people. You are this. I am that. Most of us at the school were immigrants or first generation like myself. As I started to see and understand my own identities being a New Yorker became one of them. There’s a real sense of pride in being from New York. It’s the greatest city in the world so how can we not be proud?