WFXR is highlighting remarkable women in our area that are nominated by you, our viewers. This story features Janine Underwood, executive director of Bradley Free Clinic in Roanoke.
ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — You could say Janine Underwood’s position as executive director of Bradley Free Clinic wasn’t a position she was looking for, so much as one that chose her.
“I met Estelle Avner and Estelle Avner changed my life. She came to me and said, Janine, I’m going to be retiring after 40 years, I would like you to apply for the job’,” says Underwood.
Once she accepted the role, Underwood knew it was where she was supposed to be.
“The mission of the free clinic. It really hits my heart. And I’m very grateful to be here,” says Underwood.
As executive director, Underwood has helped expand the clinic’s outreach. With its network of volunteers, the clinic, which provides medical services for the low income and uninsured, helps 2,000 patients on an annual basis. In 2016, with the assistance of local law enforcement and community agencies, the clinic implemented the Roanoke Valley Hope Initiative (RVHI) to help those with substance use disorders.
Its mission has special meaning for Janine. Just one year before RVHI began, Janine’s son, Bobby, died from a heroin overdose-an addiction that began years before when he was prescribed pain medication for an injury.
“He went to work every day and it was a few months that he was there and every day, he would come home, ‘Mom, I think they’re going to give me promotion. They’re going to give me more responsibility.’ And he was so excited. But it didn’t take long for the people in the community, his old acquaintances to reconnect with him. And he overdosed and died June 5th, 2015,” says Underwood.
At the time, Underwood knew very little about opioids. The loss of her son shaped her passion for educating others and working to find a solution to the community’s drug addiction crisis.
“It could be a parent that comes in, like me 10 years ago, trying to figure out what to do to help their child, and they have no place to turn. And they don’t know all the resources available. They can come in and talk to our volunteers,” says Underwood.
As remarkable as Underwood may seem, she doesn’t consider herself that way. Instead, she acknowledges that it takes a whole community of people to help the community. She says it’s the people she works with, both the patients and volunteers, that make her job worthwhile. People like Dr. Sidney Barritt, who has worked at the clinic almost since its inception 46 years ago.
“There are people who fall through the cracks, and don’t get appropriate care, or don’t get it in a timely fashion. And the various free clinics, but particularly this one here, provide that,” says Dr. Barritt.
Underwood describes Bradley Free Clinic as a hidden community treasure, a phrase that also seems appropriate when applied to her.
After all these years, Underwood says there’s still room for growth.
“We are hoping to be able to expand the building and add on six new counseling rooms. And a whole behavioral health wing. I wish we could put a second floor on the building, but it’s wonderful to see. And it’s so needed in the community. And I’m grateful to be a part of it,” says Underwood.
Looking ahead, Underwood is focused on expansion, because she knows there’s still more work to be done, more people to be helped, more hope to be spread.