Care-A-Van Ministry Serves Madison County

     As a former oncology nurse, Sonya Walker has seen patients at their worst. But now she’s lucky enough to witness people at their best.
    Like seeing the bright smile of a child who just passed her first vision test. Or hearing the sigh of relief from a senior adult whose blood pressure registered normal. And getting a hug from a Canton flea market shopper who is told, “OK, you’re ready to shop again.”
    For the past five years, Walker, a registered nurse at St. Dominic’s, has clocked more hours in a mobile screening van than in a traditional healthcare setting. Her office on wheels is St. Dominic’s fully-equipped Care-A-Van, which delivers her to wherever her services are needed, including many areas of Madison County.
    The Care-A-Van, St. Dominic's mobile health screening unit, focuses on areas in the Jackson Metro Area that do not have ready access to preventive healthcare. The Care-A-Van is equipped with a variety of diagnostic capabilities and is staffed with experienced medical personnel like Walker, who considers her job “a ministry that I am fortunate to take out into the community every day.”
     In Madison County, a typical day of Walker’s “ministry” may include conducting free health screenings at Camden Elementary; hosting a senior citizens’ health fair at Sacred Heart Catholic Church; educating an after-school group at the Boys and Girls Club on proper nutrition; or conducting blood pressure checks at Golden Key Community Center.
     Every day is different as Walker and her team, which includes a rotating staff from St. Dominic’s dietary, radiology, cancer center and other departments, travel around the area providing free health screenings and education.
     While the Care-A-Van exists primarily to offer health and wellness screenings to the underserved, Walker said education is also a key component of the Care-A-Van’s mission. She and other volunteers provide information ranging from infant care to geriatric health. Those requesting this type of service range from area pastors to day care directors, all of whom receive assistance from top specialists in their field.
     “One of the greatest blessings, in addition to meeting those we serve, is seeing the joy that medical professionals and other lay people who volunteer their time and talents receive from this mission,” Walker said. “It just goes to show that when you give to others, you truly receive back much more than you give.”
     One of the events that Walker and her team enjoy is the bi-annual Canton Flea Market. The Care-A-Van is set up near the Square to assist shoppers with ailments ranging from bee stings to heat stroke. While it’s a hectic day, they look forward to meeting shoppers from across the country.
     “The Canton Flea Market is such a fun event, and while we stay busy either answering questions from those a little worried about their health to treating those in definite need of care, it is always interesting to meet people who have come from so many different places,” said Walker.
     Her work has taught Walker to put the hassles of day-to-day life in perspective and encouraged her belief in the intrinsic good of human beings. Perhaps most rewarding are her relationships with other Care-A-Van volunteers, with whom she feels close kinship.       
    “I think volunteers are the finest people I know,'' Walker said. “Many times, those who volunteer to go out with us are busy medical professionals. This is not something they have to do or that is a job requirement. The fact that they really want to help others by offering their expertise speaks to the true mission of St. Dominic’s. We have received many blessings and it’s our calling to give back.  Many times, the service we are providing, like teaching a child to eat correctly, isn't highly skilled medical care.  It's just highly skilled compassion.  And that’s what St. Dominic’s is all about.”