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Erica Johnson: Strengthening Intergenerational Ties Between Elders and Young People With Project Voice

Erica Johnson: Strengthening Intergenerational Ties Between Elders and Young People With Project Voice

Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center is a 2019 Recipient of the Martin Luther King Award for Community Service

Erica Johnson was introduced to volunteerism at age 12 when she began attending Leukemia and Lymphoma Society events with her father. Watching him navigate the events and raise money for such a good cause taught her both leadership and the importance of giving back.

As internal medicine residency director at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Johnson, along with her colleagues and community partners, has been facilitating an internship experience where internal medicine interns visit the Baltimore County community of Turner Station to hear from local residents about the role community plays in health. Their visits are hosted by the Fleming Senior Center in Dundalk and members of the Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group, a nonprofit organization serving to promote the legacy of Henrietta Lacks, provider of the first immortal human cell line, and community health.

From this relationship, Johnson and her colleagues formed Project Voice, an educational program designed to strengthen intergenerational ties and promote positive concepts related to aging. The project is brought together by Johns Hopkins Bayview resident physicians, Turner Station elder adults, and youth from local Girl Scouts troops. As the elders shared personal stories about aging, health and community life, the Girl Scouts were taught to document key themes through photography and narration.

Johnson said, “An important revelation that we identified through the elders was the need for and ways in which we could improve isolation, through engagement and outreach.” The photos captured by the Girl Scouts portrayed images of family experiences with chronic illnesses, as well as creative images that the girls associated with healthy aging. It provided residents with a deeper understanding of the impact of chronic disease from the perspective of the elders, equipping them with new approaches for communicating with elders during clinical encounters.

“It allows people to be experts in their own lives by using pictures to tell their own stories,” says Johnson. The participating resident physicians were able to expand the conversations by sharing their own perspectives as community-engaged physicians.

Johnson continues to volunteer where her community service began. She ran her first marathon with the Maryland Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, helped organize bone marrow drives at local festivals, organized a tennis tournament and participated in the society’s Woman of the Year Campaign. Johnson’s involvement has aided in raising more than $60,000 to advance research for all blood cancers. Johnson says, “The volunteer work that I do gives me way more in fulfillment than what I put in.”

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