USJ Students’ and Grads’ Service-Learning Adds Wellness to our Community
The Wellness Center on Church Street is a partnership with the Franciscan Center for Urban Ministry, an outreach program of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church in downtown Hartford which began in 2005. The Center is overseen by Beth Fischer, RSM, ’76, Director of Community Engagement, and Assistant Professor of Nursing, Janet Gavin Knecht, Ph.D., M.S.N. Through the Wellness Center students provide outreach services to the underserved population in Greater Hartford which enriches the educational opportunities for students as well as enriching the lives of the service recipients. Junior and senior nursing students participate as part of their clinical rotation during the academic year and as volunteers throughout the calendar year.
One of the outreach programs of the Wellness Center is Manna Community Meals, a program sponsored by Hands on Hartford that offers a day shelter, noon meal, and support services to the underserved population in Hartford. Students offer blood pressure and glucose screenings as well as health, nutrition, and medication education. “All are welcome at our Wellness Center programs. One of the most important gifts we bring is the gift of our presence,” said Sister Beth. In their joint research study published in the Journal of Nursing Education, “Undergraduate Nursing Students’ Experience of Service-Learning: A Phenomenological Study” they explained the goal of this and similar service-learning projects: to enable our nursing students to practice their clinical skills through the establishment of reciprocal relationships that empower clients and develop students as change agents.
In 2016, as part of their clinical experience, our students conducted nearly 600 blood pressure checks and more than 500 blood sugar screenings at Manna Community Meals; but they found that the health care was just one part of this clinical community experience. By being on site week after week and providing services with compassion and acceptance, the USJ team has earned the trust of the community. The USJ team feels as blessed as the individuals receiving the services, Assistant Professor Knecht noted, “the students gain confidence in communicating with everyone they encounter; they gain a new level of social self-awareness through this experience.”
The students have learned and changed in many ways, one commented, “This experience opens your mind to different people’s lives – what they’re going through – it really humbles you.” Another added, “I’ve learned the impact we can have by providing them with information. The other day I heard one of our clients repeating the tips I had given him to a friend of his – that gave me energy to go on.”
For more information about the service-learning experience as part of our undergraduate nursing program contact Sister Beth Fischer, [email protected].