Courtesy: SMC Athletics
PHILADELPHIA – When Hillary Miller ’15 won the Saint Michael’s College Department of Athletics’ Diane C. Foster ’77 Award as a senior, she was lauded for performing humanitarian work in the campus community and beyond, earning an honor that recognizes student-athletes displaying compassion, sacrifice and service to others.
In the five years that have since passed, Miller, a former Purple Knight women’s volleyball captain and swimmer, has yet to slow down while continuing to embody the spirit of the Foster Award, most recently working to help homeless community members dealing with substance abuse concerns in Philadelphia. The current COVID-19 pandemic has created additional challenges, making her role even more critical in their lives.
“COVID-19 is difficult for everyone, but when you are facing the barriers of homelessness and isolation, the potential for overdoses and mental health concerns is high,” said Miller, who is a registered nurse at Pathways to Housing PA. “I am so proud to work for an organization that has staff out in the field providing the care and support that each person needs during such a chaotic and overwhelming time. Whether that is bringing our patients food, cleaning wounds or providing medication, we are working to ensure that our participants are as supported as possible during a time of such unknown.”
Miller helps a group of about 80 people experiencing homelessness in addition to opioid and/or substance abuse through Pathways. “The individuals I work with are all from underserved and marginalized communities,” she said. “I spend most of my day meeting with individuals where they reside – this could take me to bridges, encampments, shelters or on the streets.”
A native of Plattsburgh, N.Y., just across Lake Champlain from Burlington, Miller has been an agent for good in Philadelphia since graduating from Saint Michael’s. She spent her first year there as a patient advocate for 20 members of the homeless community through Mercy Volunteer Corps before her next year was spent as an HIV/AIDS medical case manager for the Public Health Management Corporation. Miller completed her graduate degree through Holy Family (Pa.) University’s accelerated nursing program in 2018 before landing with Pathways, whose mission focuses on empowering people with disabilities to improve their housing stability and reclaim their lives.
“Working to address health disparities and social determinants of health has always been a crucial aspect of my work at Pathways to Housing PA,” said Miller. “During COVID-19, these health inequities have become much more evident, because COVID-19 has had a much greater impact on black and brown communities.” To Miller’s point, a May 20 story in The Guardian reveals APM Research Lab data that points to African Americans dying at three times the rate of other races and ethnicities in the United States during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Many of the participants cannot afford to stock up on food, do not have access to masks or thermometers, and still have to take public transportation to get around the city,” Miller added. “The health inequities drive me – and the staff that I work with – to continue working, and providing the essential care that is so greatly needed.”
Miller said non-emergent home visits have halted during the pandemic, but other regular responsibilities remain, many of which necessitate continued field work, such as emergent home visits and patient advocacy during virtual medical visits. “I’m trying my best to support the vast and very crucial health needs,” she said. “It is difficult at times, but my participants are some of the most resilient, strongest and inspiring people I have ever encountered, and they deserve high quality of care always, and especially during this time.”
An inspiring person herself dating back to her undergraduate years, Miller came to Saint Michael’s as a second-semester transfer her first year of college, ultimately playing three years of volleyball before joining the swimming & diving team as a senior. She was a volleyball captain as a senior, but made an impact well beyond her original team at Saint Michael’s.
As a Mobilization of Volunteer Efforts (MOVE) Core Team member, Miller served as a leader for Correctional Volleyball and participated in extended service trips to Baltimore and the Dominican Republic. She was her class’ vice president while involved with the Student Government Association Executive Board, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and Athletic Advisory Council. Her leadership was also critical to the success of the You Can Play video project and Sam’s Bone Marrow Drive.
Off campus, Miller volunteered with Ronald McDonald House and the Double H Ranch summer camp for children with serious illnesses. She completed humanitarian-based internships with the Visiting Nurse Association and American Lung Association, and her connection with Joe Soares led to the men’s lacrosse team bringing him aboard as a Team IMPACT teammate in June 2015, a relationship that endures.
“Your actions can have a larger impact than you know,” said Miller, who is speaking broadly about the general population but might as well be referring to her own past decade of good deeds. “I think it is very important to remember that choices can have lasting impacts, both positive and negative, on the most vulnerable. The vulnerable populations might look different from state to state and have different supports from city to city, but each person’s actions have huge potential – both during and after COVID-19.”
For someone used to taking positive action to improve the lives of those around her, Miller remains a friendly face while helping her community members adjust to a new norm. “Many Pathways participants have been coming to the office Monday through Friday for 10 years, coming in to socialize, have coffee and have medications administered,” she said. “COVID-19 has changed these routines, and so the Pathways staff members are doing their best to provide the highest quality health care and the human connection that many of the participants cherish while still following COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. This involves shorter office visits and more telephonic visits, but I strive to ensure that each of the encounters is meaningful and allows for human connection as best possible.”
The work continues for Miller as she brings a level of compassion to the service of an underprivileged community in Philadelphia, made no easier by the current pandemic. “The stakes are incredibly high right now,” she said. “Working to gain trust of my participants is something that I have continued to strive to accomplish since starting my work at Pathways. For participants experiencing addiction, trauma, homelessness and life on the streets, trust is one of the most valuable services I can provide. It is so important to maintain and sustain the trust by continuing to engage our participants, providing hope and supporting them as best we can during this difficult time.”