BY MEG SULLIVAN
Of all the hardships of homelessness, living day in and day out with cold, wet feet was the problem that most moved Jo Marie Tran Janco when she began volunteering with UCLA’s Mobile Clinic Project in 2001.
So she peeled the tattered shoes and soiled, soggy socks off the feet of the clinic’s clientele to find all kinds of painful and malodorous fungi and scales. These conditions cause more than just pain.
“When you’re sick and having trouble walking, it’s that much harder to get to the food line, look for work and take a shower,” said Janco, who wants to become a doctor. “Difficulties that already seem overwhelming just get compounded.”
So she began distributing clean, fresh socks to the homeless who flocked to the mobile clinic for free health care provided by UCLA medical students and social services from public health students.
Last winter, Janco assembled and passed out survival kits with blankets, ponchos, hats, gloves and socks. Her supplies were purchased with $1,100 from student fees and proceeds from clothing drives held in the residence halls.
With the advent of summer, she is preparing other kits with lip balm, sunscreen, hats, socks and, if available, shoes, as well as personal care items. Janco, now a junior, returns every Wednesday night and crouches on the sidewalk in a gritty section of Hollywood to tend to her clients.
“People wonder how can I stand to do it,” said Janco. “But I enjoy what I’m doing. I’m reminded of everything that’s good in my life and of how much still has to be done. That just makes me want to work harder.”
Janco, a neuroscience and English major, is one of three recipients of UCLA’s 2003 Charles E. Young Humanitarian Award, the highest honor given by the university for community service. Janco plans to use the award’s $500 prize to replace some of the clinic’s medical equipment and possibly pay for hepatitis B immunizations for the homeless.
“Jo Marie is the backbone of the UCLA Mobile Clinic Project; without her dedication, the clinic would not be as successful as it is currently,” said Heather Long, who served as a student coordinator on the project. “Her calm demeanor and intense interest in the overall health and well-being of clients are inspirational.”
The lesson she lives by — giving back because you have been given much — came from her parents. Her mother and her once-well-to-do family fled Saigon and lived in a refugee camp before settling in Connecticut.
“From my family’s experience, I know that it’s easy to slide from one level of well-being and affluence to another,” Janco said. “My heart just goes out to people in social and economic freefall because my mother and grandparents have explained how demoralizing the experience can be.”