Living the Mission: Sara Snowden

Friday, March 22, 2024

In this 25th year of ministry, BSVM is highlighting different alumni each month who will share the ways in which they are living into the charism and mission of the Sisters of Bon Secours years after their time with BSVM concluded. Each alum has been marked by stories of compassion, healing, and liberation from their community and ministry placements, and their lives now reflect aspects of their growth and transformation, from informing how and where they work to decisions related to neighborhood placement, community life, and more. We are grateful for their continued faithfulness in being Good Help wherever they find themselves.

Living the Mission: Using Research to Share in Liberation
By Sara Snowden, BSVM 2020-2021
A Graduate of Santa Clara University

During my BSVM volunteer year, I served at Sisters Academy of Baltimore, and I applied to various Master of Public Health (MPH) programs at the start of my year. While I applied with the intention of studying community health program evaluation, by the time my BSVM year was done, I knew that I wanted to study how schools are vital community sites of entry to the healthcare system and hubs for health education and promotion. From my service learning, I became fascinated with how community health could use schools, something every family interacts with daily, and use that as a community asset for health promotion. Like I saw from learning about so many failing social systems as a volunteer, in order to support communities, we need to start with what works and what the community trusts instead of reinventing the wheel from an outsider perspective.

Therefore, when it came time to pick my culminating experience topic—the final project for my MPH degree, what other schools might call a thesis—I knew I wanted to dive deeper into the intersection of community health with the education system, and how schools are sites and opportunities for health promotion for both students and the entire community. George Washington (GW) University calls it a Culminating Experience because it is more than just a research paper, it is designed to be a culmination of both learned public health methodologies and also key concepts and values of the program, as well as the student’s lived experiences in public health and personal public health passions.

I was lucky enough to become connected with the Center for Health and Healthcare in Schools, a research center at GW, and use my Culminating Experience to support their research on school community coalitions. These
partnerships are designed by and for the broader school community to support both educational and health outcomes, understanding that so many factors impact health as well as academic success, and that collaboration across sectors, backgrounds, and lived experiences is the best way to promote community flourishing.

While conducting interviews for this project with various coalitions across the country, I was struck by the unwritten, underlying tenants of justice that were embedded in each coalition. I worried when re-entering school that it would be impossible to avoid becoming one of “those” researchers who uses communities to extract information or who creates more harm than good in the pursuit of knowledge. However, this experience reminded me deeply of the charism of the sisters and my time at BSVM, that through intentional relationship, it is possible to give and receive healing and share in liberation. Having the opportunity to listen to each coalition share their stories and light up about their successes helped decrease our tendency to always focus on the negative and what challenges communities face that need to be fixed, and instead flip the narrative to focus on the strength and of communities to meet their own needs.

My research will not just sit in a journal but will be used as a technical assistance guide and a platform to help other communities develop successful, sustainable coalitions based on learnings from other coalitions. This experience helped me see how I, as a researcher, could still practice God’s justice and use research to share in and support liberation of communities to promote a healthier, more just world.

Sara’s family celebrated with her at her MPH graduation in 2023. She is pictured with her parents, sisters, nephew, and niece.

Sara with the 2020-2021 Ministry Volunteers