BHEC Spotlight: Payton Landes
AmeriCorps VISTA member Payton Landes joined the Behavioral Health Equity Corps (BHEC) in November of 2020. He is currently serving at Colorado Health Network in Denver and El Paso Counties. He was kind enough to answer some questions about himself and the service he is doing as part of the program.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am from southern Illinois, on the cusp of the Ozarks and Appalachia. Far away from Chicago, I grew up in a small town that was affected by the opioid crisis. Some people affected were directly involved in my life. I left my hometown after high school and went to Colorado College in Colorado Springs. It was exciting to leave the small town and enter a bigger broader place. I studied physics at Colorado College, but I felt drawn towards more immediate, political ways of shaping the world.
I haven’t felt compelled to use physics when the world I want to help create is totally technologically possible. I do however want to help secure rights and dignity for the poor and working around the world.
I bounced around a little bit after college, worked as a river guide, as a farmer, for the Biden campaign, as an artist assistant, and now for AmeriCorps.
I went to Idaho and worked on the Salmon River as a guide, after that had a stint in Fort Collins, then moved to Kawaii, one of the northernmost and less developed Hawaiian Islands and worked there for 6 months. I was working on a small diversified organic farm, which was two thirds orchard with mangos and avocados and other fruits, then traditional row farming with a wide range of grains, herbs, and root vegetables.
I am interested in travel, but I do not like bouncing around seeing sites, instead I like to live there for a while and to have different and exciting routines.
How did you get into volunteering?
In my experience, volunteering was always related to Christian service projects. I grew up in the church and in a Christian community. In high school my most consistent service project was working at a food bank that a church and small town had every week. Food accessibility and farming are things I deeply care about and see as fundamentally important for making the world a better place.
I’ve also volunteered as a tutor and considered Teach for America and other education opportunities.
What do you most enjoy in your free time?
I truly love sports activities with my friends. The recent one is pickle ball which we play at Congress Park, and riding bikes with friends. Being in sunshine is the most essential anti-depressive mood elevator.
My inside activities are baking and painting. I especially love to paint hands.
What advice would you give people considering going into service?
In any service where you are directly interacting with other people, you are leaving yourself open to learning about them and the world at large. People are all experts in some way. If you are trying to improve your service, allow people to help shape your approach to service and caring.
Try to think about things locally to balance out your fears of global and national news cycles and being aware that there are small communities trying to take care of themselves.
If you could visit one place, anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Great Barrier Reef or the Moon.
What is one item you cannot live without?
Toothpicks are essential for me and my happiness. As when I have food stuck in my teeth, I am not a happy camper. My wellbeing is dependent on my oral health.
What is your favorite hobby?
Mountain Biking. Number one, cardio is good for my body and makes me feel healthy and energized. Sometimes I feel like I am flying as after a while you kind of forget about the clunky bike and you feel like you are flying through the forest. I also love being outside in a way that I do not see a lot of people.
What would you like the world to know about you and your work?
I fundamentally think of myself as someone who was raised in a Christian humanitarian way, and almost feel like I couldn’t shake that off forever. I am a product of my parents in a way that I appreciate and love even though I have changed a lot since leaving the nest, I feel like a good Christian boy at heart. I am in many ways informed by those fundamentals.
Tell us about your host site. How do you, as a BHEC member, fit into their vision of supporting communities?
I work for Colorado Health Network (CHN). I am split between Southern Colorado Health Network that services El Paso County (Colorado Springs) and the Denver Office. I am supporting South Colorado Health Network’s goals by doing a lot of outreach and marketing and trying to forge connections with members of the community.
We are in the process of rolling out a syringe access point in Colorado Springs as there are no current access points in the region. We are trying to get support from community stakeholders to support the new syringe access point and be transparent with other community partners to create understanding.
What attracted you most to work with BHEC?
I was attracted to the specific focus on the opioid epidemic. I was looking through AmeriCorps and found this program. I am upset by the war on drugs and the opioid epidemic, and I want to contribute and get to work with partners who were doing the work. Through that process finding CHN and BHEC was a perfect spot for me.
What programs/projects are you currently working on? Please describe.
I started an Instagram for Southern CHN, called Hey__719. In Denver there is a second office which is an outreach and engagement center called Hey Denver which is youth and LGBTQ+ friendly. The marketing and location are much more focused on HIV prevention and potential of going on PREP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis). We are trying to bring that type of focus down further south.
What impact do you feel these projects/programs will have on the community?
In very explicit public health terminology, people will have a better chance of avoiding lifelong infectious diseases. I also think the ability to stop or prevent an overdose will increase in Colorado Springs.
By creating a place in a community that is historically hostile to people who use drugs where they can be accepted as people and access low tier health services will encourage involvement with the community and empower people to take care of themselves.
Tell us about the support you receive from your host site.
My check-ins with my supervisor, Melissa, are thirty minutes of going through the details and projects. We also have a very nice and caring social relationship and have genuine personal check-ins. Our demeanor on Zoom is very comforting like having a coffee with a friend. I feel like an employee both professionally and personally and I feel cared about.
What would you like to gain from service at this host site?
I hope to understand what harm reduction is in a thorough manner and how to apply those principles to a service model. Also, how to foster a relationship between ideas and communities, and all the rules, regulations, and funding constraints of the world. Making ideas and principles into reality.
What is the most rewarding aspect/proudest accomplishment of your work/position?
I am proud to be working toward common human decency for people who have been traditional denied that basic need.