Growing up in Saginaw, MI, Jasmine Calhoun says that she always had a passion for serving the community. She spent her middle and high school years volunteering for various community organizations, eventually leaving her hometown to study pre-medicine in college and earn a master’s degree in health administration and leadership. In her first job after graduate school, she worked with physicians undergoing the credentialing process, doing onboard hiring and recruitment. “The work and the money were good, but I knew I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose,” she remembers. “The work wasn’t really meaningful to me or beneficial to people I thought needed the most help.”

Out of the blue, a former colleague contacted her about a position she thought Jasmine was particularly suited for: directing the Youth Protection Council's Innerlink Runaway and Homeless Youth Shelter back Saginaw. On the day of her interview, Jasmine saw something familiar on the shelter’s wall: a news article featuring a photo of herself, from when she’d volunteered there in high school. She got the job, and for the past three years, Jasmine has led the shelter’s team, providing not only shelter for youth, but also support in school, meals, and life.

We spoke with Jasmine about how being a Bloomberg Fellow can help her benefit the shelter’s residents and other at-risk youth.

Jasmine Calhoun
Jasmine Calhoun

What drives you, and how did this bring you to your interest in public health?

Seeing people whole drives me. My interest in public health came from the desire to see people in my own family and community made whole: physically, mentally, and spiritually. I believe that, at its core, public health is a discipline about creating solutions for the risk factors that prevent people from ultimately becoming whole.

What public health-related work have you done that you’re most proud of?

The public health work that I've done that I am most proud of is the initiative I founded in 2014 called “The Freedom Experience.” In short, it is a community-based initiative specifically tailored to youth and young adults, with the mission of equipping them with passion, positivity, and purpose. We do so by hosting events that educate and expose young people to ideas, people, and experiences that they wouldn't have otherwise. In the past, we've hosted a community-wide baby shower, a block party, a food giveaway, and a Christian concert. All events are free to the public.

What question or problem in your community keeps you up at night?

If I had to name just two, I'd say food insecurity and children/teenagers without parents or systems of support.

How is the Bloomberg Fellows Program helping you to tackle that problem? What impact do you hope to make as a Bloomberg Fellow?

The Bloomberg Fellows Program is helping me tackle these problems by equipping me with the knowledge and tools to understand that these issues, like many others, are complicated and arise from risk factors that may not, initially, be associated with the problems. During my short time in the program, I have been challenged in ways that I could not have imagined, and I feel myself growing as a scholar and an advocate for my community. As a Bloomberg Fellow, I hope to challenge some of the thought processes of my classmates and cohort and leave a lasting impression that service is something that we are all called to, not just a select few.

Tell us something surprising or unexpected about yourself or your work.

Something that may surprise others about me is that I actually LOVE what I do, as daunting as the issue of youth homelessness is. Having the opportunity to make a life or death difference is a privilege and an honor, and I wouldn't want to be doing anything else at this stage in my life and career. Directing a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week shelter is a training ground that will prepare you for anything and everything!