INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– On a stool at the entrance of Neighborhood Fellowship Church, elder Jim Strietelmeier welcomes his near east side community with jovial laughter and a “God bless you.”
He’s been there nearly every week for the past ten years.
It’s not a welcome for Sunday worship, but a service of a different kind. It’s a welcome to a free student-run clinic that began a decade ago.
For Strietelmeier, it started with a seed of faith planted long before that.
“We had been praying for 12 years, really, that God would give us a clinic,” he says.
The reason was because leaders in the church were taking large numbers of people to the emergency room when they came to the church for help.
“People would let their chronic conditions become acute because they would find some barrier, and that barrier was often their own self esteem.”
Other times it was the cost of healthcare, or a lack of insurance.
In 2009, the church’s prayers were answered. The Indiana University School of Medicine wanted to start a clinic, and they wanted the church to host.
Strietelmeier says it became more than they could imagine.
In the beginning, the clinic provided routine checkups, but soon the staff realized many conditions needed prescriptions. The patients simply couldn’t afford them.
At first, the church tried to help out when they could, but they say soon they were running out of money. It wasn’t a permanent solution.
Next they reached out to The Butler University College of Pharmacy who began providing that service alongside medical students at Indiana University.
“When that happened there was a cascade of young people who said we want in too,” said Strietelmeier. “Now we have three universities at least 11 of their schools who have come in to help.”
According to the annual report, last year the clinic saw nearly 4,000 patients. The pharmacy filled over 3,200 prescriptions.
For pharmacy students like Katelyn Gordon, it means getting real world experience.
“What’s cool about this clinic is that we get to practice what we learn in the classroom to the patients,” said Gordon.
They don’t just fill prescriptions, but also provide one-on-one counseling to patients.
“We’re here ultimately to connect and serve with our community, and to be able to bring them the service that they really deserve,” she said.
While the experience looks good on a resume, it’s not what brings many students here every Saturday.
“This is the only way a lot of these patients get any medications,” says Butler pharmacy student Maria Muehrcke. “It made me realize that this is my calling to help and give back to this community.”
Strietelmeier says it’s the intersection of the sacred and the secular that is providing the community he loves.
“We’ve only had the opportunity to see people get better, to see them get healthier,” he said. “A community that loves, that makes true community. It really is health and life to Indianapolis.”
Now the clinic provides dentistry, legal counsel, social work and more.
They are now fundraising to expand further, providing more space and more services.