Revolutionary is a regular series from the VHA Innovation Ecosystem. The series focuses on VA employees who are disrupting the status-quo, breaking down barriers, and attempting to radically revolutionize Veteran care and employee experience.

Sabrina Clark, a public servant of 30 years, is director of the VA Center for Development and Civic Engagement. CDCE oversees community volunteers who give their time and resources in service to America’s Veterans. Volunteers have provided more than 760 million hours of service to VA since 1946.

Engaging new volunteers is always on Dr. Clark’s radar. She has been interested in finding new ways to involve students in volunteer activities in a changing health care environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She turned to VHA Innovation Ecosystem (VHA IE) for an innovative strategy to innovate civic engagement among our youth population.

The CDCE Innovation Academy was formed in collaboration with VHA IE and NAF, who works with high school students to sponsor problem-solving challenges. The Innovation Academy engages youth in volunteer service and exposes them to the work of their local VA medical center.

The three organizations formalized its collaborative efforts through a national partnership to create a groundbreaking program, providing students with real-world experience while helping VA solve critical challenges.

Designing a new VA

Two of the most important results of the program have been the ability to get youth involved in volunteering on behalf of Veterans and exposing them to the programs and services available to Veterans within VA, locally and nationwide.

Sabrina Clark

“Every student has said ‘I knew VA was here but I never knew what they did,’” Clark shared. “Now they know and they want to learn more.”

Clark and her team have also seen how Veterans enjoy meeting young people who take a direct interest in their lives, their health care, and who “see them as they are today and as they are as a Veteran.”

“It’s important to allow the youth to design a VA they want to see because in 3-5 years, these are the people VA will be recruiting,” Clark said. In less than a year, over 100 students have designed solutions to VA challenges in Milwaukee, Buffalo and Providence VA Medical Centers.

Moving innovation forward

Clark’s experience in innovation, from being a VA music therapist to overseeing the Innovation Academy, has allowed her to offer advice to anyone looking to bring innovative solutions to identified problems. “You need to have a vision of what you want to do and what you want to see and take time to develop that,” she said. She believes you must focus on the goal, not just the obstacle. “Sometimes you can get through a barrier that keeps you from accomplishing what you want to get done but you’ll find that people will remove them for you if you show them your vision.”

Clark continues to grow the program, creating new and innovative ways to help Veterans with all aspects of their health using resources in the community.

Want to get involved?

Want to support VHA IE’s innovation revolution? Visit our website to learn about opportunities to become involved in innovation at VA.

By Kalyn Essex is a communications officer at the VHA Innovation Ecosystem. She is an Air Force Veteran who served for 12 years, including one Operation Enduring Freedom tour.

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Published on Feb. 26, 2022

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