By Seth Daniel
When East Boston High School senior Yvan Martinez became homeless a little while ago, there weren’t many places he could turn for the basics – such as food, shelter and health care.
However, with the East Boston High School Health Center (EBNHC) in place, operated in the school on a pilot basis at the time by East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, Martinez said he got access to health care, counseling and the friendship of caring adults who helped him through a tough time and changed his life.
“Some time ago I was homeless,” he said, quieting the room at the high school health center’s ribbon cutting last Thursday, Sept. 29. “When you’re in that situation at my age, you’re truly hopeless and hungry. During a time like that, you have to decide if you want to keep fighting or if you want to give up. I decided to keep fighting, but I didn’t know how. I had to ask for help. I asked for help in getting the basic things. I’m in school here, so I had access to education. I had a friend who let me live with him, so I had food and shelter. Then I found health care at the health center. Going there was something that changed my life forever and was so much more than I could have ever imagined. If it wasn’t for Paula at the health center, I don’t know if I would have made it through that time.”
In addition to making it through, Martinez has excelled – serving as an Umana Scholar for Councilor Sal LaMattina last year and being able to travel to Washington, D.C., on an educational trip. All of those things have opened his eyes up to a brighter future, he said, and changed the course of his life.
EBNHC CEO Manny Lopes said that making the health center official and building out a new facility there is exactly in line with the mission of EBNHC.
“For us, this is our opportunity to continue our vision and meet our patients where they are at,” he said. “In this case, it’s the 1,500 students who attend high school. This is meeting the students and our patients where they’re at.”
School officials were also very complimentary of the center.
“The opportunity and the services here are something we would like to be replicated throughout the City, but now is a very special opportunity in East Boston,” said Tommy Welch, instructional superintendent for Boston Public Schools. “I look forward to expanding these opportunities for our students.”
East Boston High Principal Phil Brangiforte said making the center official in the Center allows more kids to see the doctor.
“We’ve always had the school-based health center, but it was never official,” he said. “They would always see our kids, but they would eventually have to refer them…No matter where a child lives in the City or if they have health insurance, if they are a student of East Boston High School, they will be seen.”
The health center is open during school hours and provides services such as sports physicals, immunizations, chronic health issues like asthma, headaches, sore throats, sexual health like STD treatment and birth control counseling, and emotion issues like depression, anxiety and sexual identity. There are also counseling services for things like pregnancy prevention and healthy eating and healthy lifestyles.