Med students make good neighbors in Harrisburg

Harrisburg resident and medical student Chaz Fausel, middle, has dinner with (from left) David McCall, Jarvis Wright, 12, Jordan Stewart, 8, and Evan Garner during the St. Luke UMC mentor program in Augusta's Harrisburg neighborhood.

Lorenzo Robinson, 13, walked up to Brett Heimlich outside St. Luke United Methodist Church and handed him a folded piece of paper.

“Is this what I think it is?” Heimlich asked, scanning the page and smiling. “Look at all those E’s. That’s awesome.”

The E’s on Lorenzo’s middle school progress report stand for “Excellent.”

“Looks like you’re not going to be spending social studies over at my house,” said Heimlich, a third-year M.D./Ph.D. student at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Health Sciences University.

“I’ve got better opportunities,” Lorenzo said, grinning.

For Heimlich, Lorenzo is more than just an eighth-grader he can mentor through a program at St. Luke; Lorenzo is a neighbor.

Heimlich and three other medical students live in a historic house in Harrisburg and work in programs in the neighborhood as a way of doing more than just hanging out between classes and studying.

Heimlich and other medical students got involved through an outreach program at St. Luke in Harrisburg before deciding to move to a house sponsored by Good Neighbor Ministries, which was begun by a church member.

Joey Boaen, another third-year student, admits there was some early trepidation about what kind of reception they would get.

“I was worried about how we would be accepted, if they would appreciate us being here,” he said. But moving in “was necessary to be a part of the community,” Boaen said. “Not just come in once a week from outside.”

Heimlich said he used to do that when he first started to volunteer in the neighborhood, come in and then drive away.

“Versus now when we go and volunteer, like on Monday nights, we all walk out of the same place and walk home,” he said, “There is just a different feel. It seems like there may be more of a place to share in some of the common experiences, just because we live in the same area and face the same things as a community.”

That Monday night program at the church is called Kids with a Future, where the kids come to share a meal, some lessons and some games with the students and other volunteers. The students’ commitment to be in the community with them before and after gives the kids a chance to see what they are all about, said Marsha Jones, co-founder of the program and director of outreach for St. Luke.

“For a kid from this neighborhood, it is pretty amazing to watch,” she said. “They’re just wonderful. They’re incredible young people.”

Time in Harrisburg has helped open their eyes, said Chaz Fausel, a second-year medical student.

“I feel like Harrisburg for a lot of people is automatically sectioned off in their minds as just this bad place, full of crime,” he said. “It’s more of a realization for me that real people live here and they want to be loved and to have community just as much as anyone else in Augusta does.”

It has been a learning experience, Boaen said.

“People always assume that we think we’re going to come in and we’re going to help all of these people, which is obviously part of it. We want to help anyone we can,” he said. “But it’s more about just living alongside folks. I’ve learned probably way more than I’ve taught anyone. And I just feel blessed to be living here, living in the community and helping out however I can.”

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