PA Student Isaac Esene Leads GoodWorks, a Nonprofit that Teaches Bystander Awareness to the Next Generation

Providing young people with life-saving skills to respond in emergency situations

April 17, 2024

By Jennifer Walker

To engage youth, GoodWorks workshops includes games, such as the compression challenge.

In Prince George’s County, Maryland, teenagers break into groups of four to work through scenarios and practice how they would respond to violent events or medical emergencies. They are participating in a workshop hosted by GoodWorks, a nonprofit led by a Gen-Z team of staff and volunteers that equips youth with the skills needed to help in these types of situations. For one exercise, groups pretend they are playing basketball and mannequins fall to the floor to represent people experiencing cardiac events. Each team member has predetermined roles: One person calls 911, another checks for a pulse, the third leads compressions, and the last grabs an automated external defibrillator (AED). GoodWorks founder and PA student Isaac Esene wrote this scenario with young athletes in mind, who might experience cardiac events.

“Participants might feel like, ‘I’m healthy. I’m young. Why am I going to have to worry about a cardiac arrest?’” said Esene, who shares stories during GoodWorks workshops about professional athletes whom have experienced cardiac events at a young age, such as Damar Hamlin, a safety for the Buffalo Bills, and Bronny James, son of basketball legend LeBron James. “But when they see a lot of young athletes suffering from cardiac-related events, it heightens their awareness towards it and makes them want to be more involved in learning new skills.”

Through GoodWorks, Esene teaches young people about CPR, Stop the Bleed, and opioid use disorder.

Since officially launching in 2023, GoodWorks has reached 900 youth and young adults by partnering with organizations and schools to offer 2.5-hour workshops focused on bystander awareness. Along with teaching the foundations of CPR, the workshops cover Stop the Bleed principles, as well opioid use disorder and responding to drug overdoses. When it comes to addressing violence in particular, GoodWorks is focused on teaching young people how to respond to these events instead of centering their work on prevention like many other organizations.

“Prevention is super important,” says Esene, who will graduate from the Frostburg State University’s PA program in May. But he also acknowledges the difficulty of deterring all violence. And, in the aftermath of a violent event, those who are in or nearby the situation want to respond. “There are clear minds that want to help,” he adds. “That’s why our mission is geared toward bystander awareness.”

The Path to Starting a Nonprofit
Growing up in Prince George’s County, Esene became interested in bystander awareness in high school when he saw his peers finding themselves in violent situations that cost some of them their lives. In college, Esene became an aerospace medical technician with the 113th group of the D.C. Air National Guard, where he began developing emergency response skills. In 2020, he was assigned in this capacity to a COVID response team in Washington, D.C., that was eventually responsible for vaccinating large numbers of military and government personnel. In his formal role as a medical technician, Esene also acted as a medic during several protests, including the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 and the U.S. Capitol in 2021, where he mainly treated minor injuries like cuts and bruises.

Once he learned how to respond in these types of situations, Esene wanted to pass on this knowledge to youth. “It’s useless if only a few people in a community know how to do CPR or put on a tourniquet or administer Narcan for a drug overdose,” said Esene, who won the “Airman of the Year” award from the D.C. Air National Guard in 2021. “We need those skills to trickle down. We need them to be understandable to the people experiencing the most trauma, which is the people in our underserved communities.”

Esene started his nonprofit, GoodWorks, to teach youth about bystander awareness and response.

In late 2021, Esene was deployed to a refugee camp where there was a significant language barrier. To aid in understanding, he explained difficult concepts about American life in unique ways to the refugees, many of whom were children who experienced horrific trauma after losing family members and fleeing their countries. It occurred to him that this was similar to his vision for GoodWorks. He wanted to explain challenging concepts centered on bystander response in fun and engaging ways to youth who have experienced trauma. “The motivation to start GoodWorks came from this deployment,” Esene said. “It made me feel like I had the ability to execute this idea in my notebook and be a leader.”

In early 2022, Esene returned to the Washington, D.C., area, but had a few months before he began his PA program. In the interim, he worked as a COVID coordinator and set medic for TV shows and movies, including A Scout’s Honor and Big Vape, both Netflix documentaries. He also took on a short assignment with an HGTV show that took him to Detroit. There, Esene began laying the groundwork for GoodWorks by getting in touch with youth organizations to see if they would be interested in bystander training. He led two workshops in Detroit and a few in Baltimore to help him refine the curriculum.

Today, GoodWorks, whose target audience is youth, ages 12 to 18, from Prince George’s County, hosts about one workshop a month in partnership with schools, after-school programs, and sports leagues. “The purpose of GoodWorks is to be a counterpart to organizations that are developing youth,” said Esene, who is interested in practicing in psychology or primary care as a PA. “Our goal is to give youth these skills for response and increase their health literacy and their knowledge base regarding emergency situations. Then we leave the development, the mentoring, and the prevention to those communities they belong to.”

Engaging Youth to Become Better Bystanders
GoodWorks workshops are led by one certified instructor and five volunteers and focus on participation and games to keep the audience engaged. Along with scenarios, the curriculum includes competitive activities like a compression challenge, in which participants try to complete the most correct compressions in a row. Students fill out the same survey at the beginning and end of the workshop to see if their comfortability with bystander response has changed. They also participate in a roundtable discussion where they can talk about crime, safety, and healthcare in their communities.

Esene and his team coordinate occasional GoodWorks pop-up events in the community.

With the help of the GoodWorks team—which consists of four staff members; several advisors from the community building, public health, and violence intervention fields; and 78 volunteers, including pre- and current PA and medical students, as well as young professionals from the fire department, law enforcement, the military, and social work—Esene also coordinates occasional pop-up events by placing booths at basketball courts and festivals and on street corners. To draw youth to the booths, he’s found it’s helpful to partner with local artists. For example, during one pop-up, a local rapper came to the booth to look at the mannequins and learn CPR, which encouraged young people nearby to also come over and engage.

Esene’s approach to addressing gun violence in particular has drawn the attention of Congressman Glenn Ivey from District 4 in Maryland. In January, Ivey hosted the Gun Violence Action Summit at the Library of Congress to bring together families of murder victims and advocates to talk about solutions to gun violence. He asked Esene to be the keynote speaker. At the summit, Esene talked about the importance of increasing training so young people have basic understanding of first aid and CPR.

“I know that if more people had the skills to do something in these situations, they might actually help someone in need,” he said. “Then that person’s life might be saved.”

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