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Volunteer work directs career path for Illinois State alum

Mike Romagnoli

Mike Romagnoli

In his first semester as a graduate student studying Spanish at Illinois State University, Mike Romagnoli, M.A. ’06, was required to do six hours of volunteer translation work at an area agency. He chose to work with the Community Health Care Clinic (CHCC), and he’s been with the organization ever since. In early November, Romagnoli became the CHCC executive director.

On his first day volunteering at CHCC, Romagnoli was trained by a volunteer physician who was fluent in Spanish. After that first day, however, the physician never returned and Romagnoli suddenly became the only Spanish translator at CHCC. Seeing the need and the importance of the work, he volunteered as much of his time as possible, continuing well past the six hours required for his course and into the next semester. The following summer, he officially transitioned from volunteer to staff member.

Romagnoli earned bachelor’s degrees in political science, anthropology, and Spanish from Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin, and a master’s in Spanish from Illinois State University. His knowledge of healthcare and medical terminology, however, has come from his extensive experience at CHCC.

“It’s such a unique service that we do,” Romagnoli said. “At the very beginning it was really interesting to just learn how the clinic functioned, then I got more interested in the medical side, and through translation (I was in with patients) I learned a ton of medical stuff just by proxy.”

Executive Director Mike Romagnoli discusses CHCC business with Operations Manager Leigh Helmuth.

In his 14 years with CHCC, Romagnoli has held nearly every staff position. Most recently, he served as Operations Manager. When former executive director Angie Mclaughlin left to pursue a position elsewhere, the CHCC Board of Directors unanimously selected Romagnoli as the new executive director.

Romagnoli credits a variety of aspects of CHCC as reasons why he joined the staff following his volunteer experience. “I really enjoyed the staff, the patients, the linguistic challenge that the translation presented, and the opportunity to volunteer somewhere that really benefited all parties (patients, the clinic itself, and me).”

Romagnoli encourages current Redbirds and community members to volunteer at CHCC as well.

“I’m obviously partial to our facility, but the students that we take as volunteers get a first-hand look at the people that make this community function, which is the working poor,” he said. “Landscapers, drywall, hotel workers, restaurant workers, bus drivers. So many people have contact with our patients and never know it until they work with them at the clinic.”

This experience, Romagnoli says, helps to broaden an individual’s perspective.

“If at the very least, the students that we take at the clinic can translate/triage/give meds/do something, with a person that cleans hotel rooms, then the next time they stay at a hotel, they will have a whole different respect for that person that they pass in the hallway on the way to their room,” he said.

CHCC is continuously recruiting new volunteers, especially nursing students and anyone fluent in Spanish or French. Visit the CHCC website for more information.