BHEC Spotlight: Marlee Yost-Wolf
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m from Kansa, not too far from Colorado. My dad grew up on the east coast skiing, and I used to come out to Colorado to ski when I was growing up, which was my introduction to Colorado, so I’m a little familiar with some of the mountain communities. I have two younger brothers, and we’re all pretty close in age.
I went to a small liberal arts college in the twin cities in Minnesota called McCallister College which was my first experience living in a major city. I studied international studies, which kind of just fell into place. It was a cool opportunity to pick classes that really interested me.
I took a year in between college and beginning AmeriCorps, and I moved to Boulder right after college with my partner who I met during my studies abroad. I was lost about what I wanted to do but wanted to live in the same state with my partner, so I ended up in Boulder. I worked for a healthcare tech company, which was cool but not nearly as cool as what I am currently doing.
How did you get into volunteering?
I did an AmeriCorps program in college; it was two months in the summer. I was working at a transitional housing facility with kids there. I was specifically doing literacy work, not necessarily teaching, but helping them have a positive experience with books and learning.
I really wanted to teach when I was in college; I thought that was what I would end up doing after college. The AmeriCorps program was my first experience in education.
I realized I really liked working with people one-on-one, which is not something super available in traditional teaching paths. I also think it affirmed for me how much education is about mental health, especially at a young age. Success in school is not necessarily knowing a lot of information, it is more about being able to regulate your emotions and deal with challenges and setbacks. I found my interest was more in the mental health aspect of school, versus the transfer of information.
What do you most enjoy in your free time?
I really love to garden and I got into that last year during COVID. It was like having a pet -- I do not have a cat or dog, but you have to watch them and take care of them. It was a helpful and consistent thing in my life, reason to go outside, especially when working at home.
We just started some raised beds in our back yards here, and I’m hoping they have survived the snow. It is fun to grow your own food and have to figure out what to do with it. We planted a lot of different kinds, but we don’t have a lot of space. We planted beets, carrots, cilantro, parsley, lettuce, kale, arugula, bok choy, and we have some peppers and tomatoes that we have started inside.
What advice would you give people considering going into service?
I would probably say to be patient with the situation, with the start, and with yourself in trying to learn everything. You’re here for a year for a reason, and it may take that long to feel like you have an understanding of what you’re doing and that’s okay and kind of necessary. We’re not dealing with simple things here.
I would also say to try to – especially because you aren’t getting paid for your hours – don’t overwork yourself, try to maintain that separation and enjoy yourself. Don’t end up in a situation where you are burned out by your service year.
If you could visit one place, anywhere in the world, where would you go?
First thing that came to mind is somewhere I’ve already been, Belgrade Serbia. I would love to go and spend time with my host mom there.
I would also like to go to a supervised injection site, I know there are some in Canada. They have been super successful in limiting overdose and engaging people in care, in whatever way that means to them. Hopefully, it is a direction that we will go in the future.
What is one item you cannot live without?
What is your favorite hobby?
I really like to run, in addition to gardening. I have been doing it since I was in middle school, I think it is helpful for me processing my days. And you get to see some really beautiful sites.
What would you like the world to know about you and your work?
I would like to see the world understand how harmful stigma is, and how little sense it makes. Also, it would be great if the world could know about the racist roots of drug policy and how that contributes to stigma. Stigma is the biggest harm in substance use and biggest thing keeps people down.
Tell us about your host site. How do you, as a BHEC member, fit into their vision of supporting communities?
I am placed with northern Colorado Health Network in Fort Collins, serving with the prevention teams. There are a couple different programs that my team runs. One is a syringe access program which is free, anonymous, and confidential. We also have a Naloxone and Fentanyl test strips, as well as general information about overdose prevention. We also do referrals and STI testing. Plus, we have a Naloxone clinic, which has been very successful as it is low barrier.
There is a big learning curve in understanding everything they do and why they do it that way. Trying to see some areas for engagement that the team has not had a chance to look at yet. Somethings I’ve worked on is a social media platform for our syringe access program which is a cool way we can engage with the larger harm reduction community, as well as our clients and partners. Syringe access programs are unfortunately often underfunded as they can be controversial, so we are looking at potential funding opportunities including a donation process. There has been a lot of moving parts in adapting to COVID, so some work has been looking at capitalizing our volunteer programs and other outreach programs. I’m also the person who writes up standard operating procedures so we can all stay on the same page.
What attracted you most to work with BHEC?
I think it’s a really good opportunity to get your foot in the door in the world of public health by joining an organization that is working on the second highest priority issue of our time (other than COVID). It’s both grassroots and evidence based.
What programs/projects are you currently working on?
In addition to the previously mentioned group, I’m working with two other partners in harm reduction for a couple of additional counties, organizing Naloxone trainings and updating the training to include harm reduction 101.
Tell us about the support you receive from your host site.
All the prevention staff members are there for any questions I have, all day any time. I have gotten to shadow a lot of our direct service, as without that, I wouldn’t have any ideas that would have made any sense for CHN. My supervisors have all been super great and helping me unpack certain things and make connections in the community.
What would you like to gain from service at this host site?
Personally, and professionally, I would love to gain more of an understanding of what I would like to do next within public health, as there are so many directions you can go. My hope is that I can get my toes into all the different things here so I can understand what I am most drawn to so I can make those next steps.