Upstate medical student Sean Haley sums up his life journey this way: “I’ve always ended up in the place I’m supposed to be, whether I planned it or not.”
Those places include El Salvador, Thailand, New York City – and Syracuse’s North Side, where Sean helped found and build a not-for-profit organization called HopePrint.
“We’re all motivated by what brings us happiness and joy,” he said. “What brings me joy is serving. HopePrint provides all of that – it’s international but in our own back yard, it’s culturally diverse, urban and under-resourced.”
For his work with HopePrint, and for his academic success, Sean recently won a SUNY Association of Council Members and College Trustees scholarship for Excellence and Student Initiative.
“Seldom have I seen a young man who exhibits such unwavering and sincere devotion to serving his community,” wrote Dr. Susan Stearns, assistant dean of student affairs, in her letter nominating Sean. “A highly personable and charismatic young man, he is an exceptional medical student and a dynamic, insightful and astute leader whose work with the refugee population is unprecedented in our community.”
The award is $1,000 plus another $250 to an organization of the recipient’s choice – Sean chose HopePrint, which focuses on helping Syracuse’s resettled refugee community. He’ll be honored along with several other student winners Oct. 13 in Lake Placid.
Two summers ago, Sean found himself delivering a couch to a refugee family on Syracuse’s North Side. He was with Nicole Watts, HopePrint’s executive director, and they talked about the needs of the city’s refugee population, which grows by several hundred each year.
“I was like, ‘I’m all in,’ ” after that conversation, Sean said.
He’s no stranger to different cultures and different lands. As a senior at Syracuse University in 2010, he went to El Salvador as a leader of a Young Life group. There, he worked with Upstate physician Joseph Domachowske MD at a clinic during the day, and helped build a school at night.
“Once you see poverty, it never leaves your head,” Sean said. “Once that door is open, there’s no closing it.”
In the summer of 2011, he went to Thailand with a Kansas City-based group that was fighting against human trafficking, especially that of children.
It’s these experiences abroad, and the day-to-day challenges he sees among refugees in Syracuse, that have shaped his worldview.
Working with refugees, Sean said, “is a constant reminder of how lucky we are. They provide such a different view. I asked a Somali why he was wearing flip-flops in six inches of snow, and he said he had to go to the doctor. Their mentality is ‘survival first.’ It’s so humbling.”
It also is a time management challenge for Sean to help run HopePrint while going to medical school and pursuing his master’s degree in public health in our CNYMPH program.
“In a way, it makes medical school easier,” he said. “It helps you remember that there’s a serious world outside of Weiskotten Hall, with serious problems out there.”
HopePrint tries to tackle some of them. Among other services, it provides refugees with English language instruction and college preparation courses (12 refugees were accepted into Onondaga Community College), helps with socialization and navigating the health care and social service systems.
It’s a simple concept, really.
“There are people who need friends,” Sean said, “people who just need someone to walk alongside them.”