While Dr. Sydney Boule was completing her family practice residency in Conroe, she and her family attended Under Over Fellowship, a church that ministers largely to the city’s homeless population. At the conclusion of her residency, Boule moved to Pasadena to work in a family practice clinic there.
“When she left, I asked her, ‘If God ever gives me a million dollars, will you start a clinic for us?’” says Jerry Vineyard, the pastor of Under Over. Then in 2017, a building on South Frazier Street, valued at about a million dollars, was donated to Under Over Fellowship, and Vineyard thought, “Aha! I’ve got her now!” During the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Under Over Fellowship’s building was used as a Red Cross emergency shelter, and Jerry was reminded how much the area needed a free medical clinic. He contacted Boule, and told her, “I got a million-dollar building. Will you open up a clinic?”
A million dollar building “met the requirement” as far as Boule was concerned; furthermore, she wasn’t surprised by the donation. “Jerry gets anything he asks God for,” she says.” I knew that if Jerry asked God for a million dollars, he would get it. It was just a matter of time.”
Early in the fall, Boule and Vineyard began looking into the feasibility of starting a charitable clinic—which they planned to name “Jesus Cares Clinic”—at Under Over Fellowship. To gather information, they contacted Anita Phillips, clinic director of Interfaith Community Clinic, an organization in The Woodlands. Interfaith Community Clinic, founded in 1996, serves people of all religions, with a mission of “providing health care services to those in need.”
Right away, Phillips recognized the need for a clinic in Conroe and wanted to help. “Everything that Jerry is trying to accomplish through his ministry is exactly what we do,” she says. “We have a shared mission to take care of the underserved.”
Because many people in need have no transportation, sending people from Conroe to a clinic in The Woodlands wasn’t feasible. Interfaith, however, with its infrastructure already in place, could serve people in Conroe. “We already had established processes and Jerry had the facility, so it was very easy and very natural for us,” Phillips says. Among other things, Interfaith supplies the Jesus Cares Clinic with a volunteer staff, and has resources to provide patients with x-rays, lab work, and other medical tests.
“Under Over Fellowship’s mission of outreach to those most in need in Montgomery County fulfills our worthy mission of healthcare to all,” agrees Missy Herndon, president and chief executive officer of Interfaith Community Clinic. “This collaboration is just one of many examples of how we all can work together to meet the ever-increasing needs of our community.”
Meanwhile, Boule met Dr. Ra Nae Stanton, a local family practice physician, through mutual friends. Stanton, a member of West Conroe Baptist Church, had become aware of the intense need for free medical care in the area when she volunteered at a clinic through West Conroe’s “Cross Conroe,” an annual, city-wide project.
“I knew that Under Over would be a perfect place for a clinic,” Stanton says. “There is a huge need in Conroe. The poverty rate is higher than the national average.”(The national average is about 12 percent, while Conroe’s poverty rate is about 19 percent.)
Although hurdles seemed steep, the new clinic overcame them one by one. Under Over Fellowship donated internet service dedicated to the clinic and walled off an open area, making it more suitable for clinic use. Meanwhile, Stanton met with David Wong, who is affiliated with Coreluv, a Willis-based, Christian organization that ministers to orphans throughout the world. Wong facilitated a donation of medical equipment that was intended for use in Haiti, but was too expensive to ship. “One of the six pillars of Coreluv’s vision is to share the hope of Jesus Christ through health care,” Wong says. “So this unique situation provided an opportunity for Coreluv to partner with Under Over in impacting the local community for Christ through Under Over’s same shared vision.”
As obstacles disappeared, it soon became apparent that Jesus Cares Clinic was destined to start seeing patients after just a few months of planning. “God has really blessed this clinic,” Stanton says. “It’s amazing how people have pulled together. There’s no way this should have opened on January 25.”
Medical Care and Spiritual Care
Jesus Cares Clinic is open from 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. on the second Tuesday and fourth Thursday of each month, with hopes to increase days of operation as more volunteer help is secured. At first, all patients were Under Over attendees, but word quickly spread beyond the church’s walls. On March 22, volunteers were pleased to note that, for the first time, patients came from the community at large. “We are hoping that we don’t just see Under Over people, but that we bring people to the church,” Stanton says. “It’s an outreach to the community. People will come here for medical care, and they will get spiritual care, too.” Jesus Cares Clinic patients are not asked for identification or documentation.
Boule, Stanton, and Vineyard note that many of the city’s homeless people previously had no access to healthcare, and Jesus Cares Clinic, even in its infancy, has already made an impact on this underserved population. Many of the clinic’s patients now receive care for chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Before the clinic opened, homeless patients managed chronic conditions through visits to the emergency room. “The ER is not the place for chronic care management,” Stanton says.
If patients need prescriptions, Boule and Stanton usually prescribe generic drugs that are on the “four dollar list” at several area pharmacies. Vineyard provides transportation so patients can pick up their prescriptions. If patients need to see specialists, they are referred to the Interfaith Community Clinic in The Woodlands. “We try never to say ‘no,’ and if we are not able to provide the care they need, we will do what we can to guide them and assist them,” Phillips says.
The need for volunteers
Boule and Stanton—currently the only physicians who volunteer at the clinic—hope that, as other medical professionals volunteer for duty, Jesus Cares Clinic will be able to see patients at least once a week, perhaps twice a week. Another goal is to have two providers on duty each evening, and for the clinic to have its own staff of volunteers. Meanwhile, a dedicated cadre of Interfaith Community Clinic volunteers shows up at the clinic twice a month.
Consider Oscar Cruz-Betancourt, who began volunteering at a medical clinic years ago as a translator. He liked volunteering so much, he went to Lone Star College to become a medical assistant. “He literally paid to be a volunteer,” Stanton says. Today, Cruz-Betancourt uses his degree for volunteer purposes only; he owns his own business that has nothing to do with the field of medical care.
For volunteers, helping those in need is deeply gratifying. They are rewarded when patients voice their appreciation and give them their profuse thanks. “A couple of them had tears because they hadn’t seen a doctor in so long,” Stanton says. “They feel really downtrodden. Everybody has forgotten about them and left them on the side of the road. They think the fact that people care for them is an amazing thing. They say, ‘No one cares about us. You care about us.’”
Jesus Cares Clinic has a need for volunteers with many specialties, from translators and administrators to doctors and nurses. For more information about volunteering, email firstname.lastname@example.org.