"The various religions are like different roads converging on the same point."
- Mahatma Gandhi
Shepherd's Hope was founded in 1997 by Dr. William S. Barnes, senior pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church, who was driven by the notion that "none of us knows how to do it all, but all of us know how to do some of it." Since then, the faith-based organization has provided more than a quarter million primary care and specialty care patient visits to uninsured men, women and children across Central Florida with support from more than 20 multi-faith congregations in the region.
One of them is the Tazkiah Foundation of Lights in Ocoee. In 2008, the mosque opened its doors to provide space for Shepherd's Hope to expand its hours of operation with a new Saturday morning clinic.
The Tazkiah Shepherd's Hope Health Center was the brainchild of Dr. Raza Ali, a pediatrician who began volunteering at the organization's downtown location in 2003. Five years later, he approached the Tazkiah Foundation of Lights about providing space for a Saturday clinic and launched it with the help of his wife Zenaida and Zamona Bacchus, one of Shepherd's Hope's health center managers.
In 2012, Dr. Ali was named associate medical director for the clinic to work as a liaison between Shepherd's Hope management and the volunteer staff. His responsibilities include supervising coordination of the Tazkiah clinic's medical activities to ensure that quality patient health care is implemented in a professional manner consistent with current medical practice standards. He is joined in delivering on this mission by volunteer internal medicine physicians Dr. Jaseem Khan, Dr. Muhammad Awan, Dr. Abid Rasool, and Dr. Shazia Nasir.
"Dr. Barnes has done heavenly work for the community and we are pleased to be among the faiths who are working with Shepherd's Hope to continue to advance his mission," Dr. Ali said.
Dr. Ali holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy from Texas Southern University in Houston and received his medical degree from Universidad Tecnologia de Santiago (UTESA) in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He completed his residency, including serving as chief resident for the Department of Pediatrics, at Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. In 1994, he moved to Orlando and established his private practice in West Orange County.
Here, he shares additional thoughts about his volunteer involvement with Shepherd's Hope.
- Talk about the volunteer work you do with Shepherd's Hope.
"I began volunteering at the downtown clinic in 2003. I would go there once or twice a month in the evening after seeing patients at my private practice. It was a very enjoyable and satisfying experience."
"Then, in 2008, I suggested to Shepherd's Hope the idea of approaching the Tazkiah mosque in Ocoee about sponsoring a Saturday clinic there. My wife Zenaida, who is a critical care nurse, was instrumental in getting the clinic up and running."
- Is there a memorable patient encounter that is especially meaningful to you?
"There was a woman who brought her young child to the clinic. I remember her because she was wearing a very nice business suit and mentioned to me that she was also a physician who had just moved to Orlando because of her husband's health issues. She told me she had just left a job interview and came straight to the clinic because her son needed medication they could not afford. It was heartbreaking for me to realize that hard times can come to anyone. The patients we see at Shepherd's Hope are not always who you would expect."
- What would you tell other physicians who may be interested in volunteering at Shepherd's Hope?
"When I first started volunteering at the downtown clinic, there were times at the end of the day when I was so tired and just didn't feel like going. But, then I learned that there are times when people start lining up outside the clinic hours before it opens with the hope of seeing a doctor, and sometimes there are not enough providers to see everyone. That really impacted me. I cried so much and felt guilty knowing that the times I did not show up, there might have been patients who were turned away."
"Volunteering at Shepherd's Hope makes you feel spiritually good, even on your most tired of days. Any time you can spare is very beneficial to both the patients and yourself."
The number of uninsured and underinsured patients who seek medical care from Shepherd's Hope increases with every passing year. And, each year, some have to be turned away because there are not enough volunteer medical professionals like Dr. Ali.
To learn more about how to become a Shepherd's Hope volunteer, contact Volunteer Program Manager Abby Seelinger at (407) 876-6699, ext. 233, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.shepherdshope.org/volunteers.
- Shepherd's Hope treated 19,674 uninsured and underinsured patients in 2017, but an additional 900 people were turned away due to capacity limitations.
- 56 percent of these patients would not have sought care in 2017 without access to a Shepherd's Hope clinic.
- 43 percent of patients were employed, but uninsured.
- 26 percent reported they had lost their health insurance in the last six months to a year.
- The percentage of patients who were children jumped from 7 percent in 2016 to 17 percent in 2017.