Students and Faculty Volunteer at Project Homeless Connect

Eric Hodges (left) was one of the School of Nursing faculty members that volunteered at Project Homeless Connect. Photo by Laura Shmania,

The UNC School of Nursing served the community through Project Homeless Connect on Nov. 4. This one-stop event at the Hargraves Community Center in Chapel Hill provided services such as job-readiness resources, health and dental care, mental health assistance, social services, legal services and  housing to people experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness. Project Homeless Connect  is a key initiative of the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness and has served nearly 600 guests since 2007.

SON Associate Dean for Community Partnerships & Practice, Sonda Oppewal, acted as a Co-Chair for Project Homeless Connect’s Health Committee. She solicited ideas from SON faculty about how the School might be involved, bringing some new ideas and services to the event.  For example, guests were guided to relevant health services using new health intake forms developed by SON. The forms facilitated the use of clinical judgment based on interviews with the guests about past and current health problems.

Oppewal also helped assure there were sufficient health care providers, a need that SON helped meet with three nurse practitioners — Clinical Instructor Carrie Palmer, Clinical Assistant Professor and MSN Coordinator Jean Davison and Clinical Assistant Professor Victoria Cryer. Guests with high blood pressures, high cholesterol or glucose were directed to the nurse practitioners for counseling and referral (if needed).

Clinical Instructor Louise Fleming served as an active member of the Health Committee and recruited students to participate. Other faculty who participated included Clinical Associate Professor Eric Hodges, Clinical Assistant Professor Liska Lackey, Clinical Assistant Professor Diane Yorke, Dean Kristen Swanson, and Clinical Instructor Angela Clark. Clinical Assistant Professor Megan Williams also supported the project as the advisor to ANS.

Before the event SON Association of Nursing Students helped collect toiletry kits that were distributed before Nov. 4 as part of outreach efforts to tell homeless people about Project Homeless Connect.  During the event 27 students assisted with intake forms, providing health information, helping with eye exams, and assisted in escorting guests to various stations. Students also gave manicures this year, which provided a new opportunity for therapeutic communication and health education reinforcement. A health bingo game was another new feature that  reinforced  health education.

Sara Smith, a senior BSN student helped give manicures. She said that the event was a great opportunity to help and volunteer. She had not participated before and was surprised by the number of children and women that made up the the homeless population of Chapel Hill.

UNC faculty and students helped with many of the stations at the Project Homeless Connect event. They assisted with health histories and intake, provided health information, gave manicures, took blood pressure, and assisted in escorting guests to various stations.

Sara Smith, a senior BSN student helped give manicures. She said that the event was a great opportunity to help and volunteer. She had not participated before and was surprised by the number of children and women that made up the the homeless population of Chapel Hill.  She said it was an eye-opening experience.

Sara Smith, a senior BSN student helped give manicures. She said that the event was a great opportunity to help and volunteer. She had not participated before and was surprised by the number of children and women that made up the the homeless population of Chapel Hill. She said it was an eye-opening experience.


Carolina Spring Interdisciplinary Service Learning Project 2009

Day 1 – Service Learning Project 2009 Community Health Survey

On Monday our group which was comprised of 19 students and faculty from the Schools of Nursing, Public Health, Social Work and the Division of Physical Therapy gathered at the United Church of Chapel Hill to embark on our 5 day Service Learning Trip. We all piled into 4 vehicles and drove to Greensboro to the Gateway Center where we had our “just-in- time” training for the 2009 Community Health Survey (CHS). The CHS is a face-to-face health needs survey sponsored by Guilford County Healthy Carolinians and the Guilford County Department of Public Health. The data being collected assesses health status, access to care, social support and the need for service.

After some intense training, an “in-depth” interview between two members of our group, Christine and Travis, lunch and an interview with News 14, we set off to thump the streets dressed in our beautiful Duke blue and gold vest we set off in groups of 3 to interview residents in high risk areas in Greensboro and High Point. Our survey was designed to randomly select households in the highest poverty census tracks of Guilford County. We used handheld computers with GIS overlay to guide us and we entered data directly into the computers.
Most people were very willing to participate and be interviewed. After the interview they continued to share their concerns, frustrations and hopes with us. A major theme echoed by the residents of Greensboro and High Point was the need to “clean up the drugs” off the streets. In hind site, our first day of interviewing was a humbling experience, essentially we were strangers trying to quickly understand the lives of others—we were given the opportunity to be a part of private and personal experiences. We all agreed with the words of one sage resident who commented during her interview, “If all of us are going to be healthy everyone has to have a chance to be healthy.”

After our assignments were completed for the day we drove to beautiful YMCA Camp Weaver. We ate dinner, watched the DVD, Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making us Sick?, and discussed and reflected on the day. We all turned in fairly early knowing that we would have a very full day of interviews on Tuesday.

Day 2- Service Learning Project 2009 Community Health Survey

After a simple but lovely breakfast at Camp Weaver we set out for our staging area at the Guilford County Cooperative Extension on Burlington Rd. Our group arrived there around 8:30 a.m. where we were met by the staff of the Guilford County Dept. of Public Health. After a brief update and some debriefing, our 10 teams set out in separate cars to continue the interviews we started on Day 1. We interviewed more residents and learned more about their plight, struggles, hopes and fears. At the end of the day we completed a total 86% of the 210 surveys–way to go!!!!!!!!!!

One memorable interview was a mother of 2 small children living on the edge; her husband made too much money to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private insurance. She spoke of her frustration of not being able to seek medical care for herself, lack of affordable childcare options and affordable fresh produce. These same concerns were voiced by many in this community.

We headed back to Camp Weaver for dinner and a grand camp fire. We ate smores, sang songs and played games under the clouds and stars at Camp Weaver.

Day 3- Service Learning Project 2009 Community Health Survey

We packed up, ate breakfast, checked out of Camp Weaver and drove to the Gateway Center to receive final instructions for our last 4 hours of interviews. In the end we were able to complete all 210 household surveys. As we reflected on the past 2 ½ days, we were able to identify common themes among the communities: crime, drugs, lack of affordable fresh produce, access to quality healthcare, and the need for more safe parks. By identifying these concerns the Guilford County Department of Public Health together with Healthy Carolinians hopes to develop, implement and tailor programs to address them.

We said good bye to staff of the Guilford County Department of Public Health and headed to Columbia, NC, located in Tyrell County which is the most sparsely populated county in NC. Our first stop was the Cypress Grill in Jamesville, a popular local restaurant and eastern NC landmark that is open a few months of the year when fresh herring is available. We all enjoyed dining at this unique herring shack before heading to the 4H Center in Columbia where we had a large cabin reserved for our group.

Day 4 – Service Learning Trip/Alligator Community

Our group had a mouth-watering breakfast at the 4-H Center and then headed out to the Visitor Center in Columbia where we met our partners from the Conservation Fund, Buck and Justin. We followed them to one of the more than 800 Rosenwald Schools in NC.

This one was located in the Alligator Community of Tyrrell County. There is an amazing history behind the Rosenwald schools. In a nut shell, Chicago philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, CEO of Sears, Roebuck and Company financed the building of over 5000 school houses in black communities from the early 1910s into the early 1930s. Today some of these schools are being identified and restored, which was one of our assignments during this trip. Our group gathered into the small, one room Rosenwald school house in which a large blackboard spanned one of the walls, there were several church pews inside and several other dusty nick knacks being stored. Justin and Buck gave us a brief orientation of the school and noted that the school was used to educate the white children of the community–not the black children, which was Rosenwald’s vision. This was confirmed by several older members of the community who told us that the black children were schooled in one of the local churches. I was taken aback by this revelation and it forced me to think of the history and events of that time period.

After the orientation we were given our assignments for the day. Because of the weather forecast the decision was made to first work outside in the Palmetto-Peartree Preserve and then come back to the school house. We left the school house and made our way to the preserve. Our assignment was to clean up the area of trash and CRABPOTS!! These large wire boxes had become tangled up in the brush and forested area after being blown ashore from Albemarle Sound to the shore. At the end of the day we removed enough crab pots and trash to fill 2 large dumpsters. We have pictures!!!

During our cleanup we found 2 voter boxes with sample ballots from the late 1800s and early 1900s!! We also found several books and magazines from that time period. Within an hour the place was cleaned up and made ready for our community meeting and cookout. Our group greeted the residents of Alligator community as they strolled into the school house. We inquired about their experience of rural living, asked about any issues or concerns they had and suggestions for future service projects, while eating hamburgers and hotdogs. I spoke to one resident who was a fisherman by occupation, who recently returned to Alligator community after a few years up North. He said he enjoyed rural living and the outdoors. What I found interesting was that he was able to name everyone who was in the school house that night, a testament to what a close-knit community Alligator is.

Day 5 – Service Leaning Trip / Alligator Community

We started our last day of the trip with another wonderful breakfast at the 4-H Center and made our way to the Visitor Center in Columbia

We were able to do a little shopping before heading to the auditorium to watch “Unnatural Causes”. After the movie we each reflected on our trip. For me, as a graduate nursing student, the week’s events led me to be more aware of the social determinants of health, like employment and housing. The face-to-face surveys allowed me to get a first hand, up close glimpse of the lives of those who are underserved and how their health is being determined, in part, by the social factors around them.

After our reflection we had lunch at one of the local restaurants in Columbia and then headed off for a tour of Somerset Place. Somerset Place is a state historic site that offers a view of antebellum plantation life.

Our tour guide led us through a typical day of plantation life as we walked in the rain between various buildings on the plantation, including a hospital with intriguing and somewhat horrifying instruments and tools. The tour cumulated at the Great House of the planters, which was furnished with original pre-civil war items some of which were donated by the original family.

After the tour we got into our vans and drove back to Chapel Hill. It was an amazing trip of learning, discovery and full of new experiences. We visited places and people we would have never crossed paths with. All in all I can say with confidence that we all had a good time and it was a life changing experience in some way.

Colette Allen, BSN, CCRN

Graduate Nursing Student, FNP Program

Alumna Rolls Up Sleeves at Uganda Hospital

Meg Zomorodi, BSN ’01, PhD ’09, went to Uganda last summer as part of a medical mission organized by Duke University Medical Center. She and her team worked in Mulago Hospital — the hospital where several scenes from The Last King of Scotland were filmed. She plans to return this summer with several SON students to continue the work she helped start.

This is what she had to say about her experience:

I’ve always wanted to participate in a medical mission trip so when Michael Haglund, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Duke University Medical Center approached me about going to Uganda for two weeks, I didn’t hesitate.

Without knowing any specifics, my husband and I agreed to be a part of this 28-person medical team, determined to make a difference in the lives of the Ugandan people. We had no idea the impact that Uganda would make on our lives and how determined we would both become to maintain a continued relationship with this beautiful country.

What started out as a mission trip to conduct medical services for the people of Uganda grew into a massive undertaking. In January 2007, Haglund traveled to Uganda to tour the operating facilities at Mulago Hospital. What he found there was a flashback to the 1960′s where physicians operated with ether and the operating room nurse was the true canary in the coal mine – when the nurse passed out from the ether fumes, surgeries stopped for the day.

There was one ventilator in the 1,500-bed hospital, and it was only used for new admissions. Therefore, if a patient came into the hospital and the ventilator was being used, the family of the patient using the ventilator had to decide to withdraw life support or manually ventilate the patient. After this experience, our plan shifted to include donating medical equipment. When all was said and done, nine tons of equipment were donated to Mulago Hospital. With help from UNC-Chapel Hill School of Nursing (SON) faculty and students, more than 100 textbooks were donated as well. This was especially important to me since education was my top priority.

When we arrived in Kampala, word had spread about the U.S. medical mission and more than 100 people had driven across the country to have access to this free service. We unloaded the equipment and spent 12 hours unpacking and organizing our supplies.

The next morning we began our first cases. When we realized we didn’t have a phone or any way to stay in touch with the operating room, I donned a mask and ran back and forth between the three operating rooms in order to maintain contact between them and the recovery room. During the four and a half days in the operating room, we successfully completed 30 neurosurgical cases. Just as importantly, the intensive care unit and recovery rooms were completely revamped, and the nurses gained a wealth of education.

When I first arrived in the recovery room, I met Agnes, the only recovery room nurse. She told me her role was to make sure that the patient was still breathing and, then, send him or her to the floor where the nurse-to-patient ratio was 1-to-50! After unpacking our equipment, I provided information on assessment and post-op recovery, and my audience grew everyday. By the end of the week, we had a full time recovery room staff of eight nurses who performed full head-to-toe assessments, monitored vital signs for two hours, and, then, determined when, and if, the patient was stable enough to be discharged out of the recovery room.

The chief nurse told me on our last day in Mulago that theses nurses had now been hired to the recovery room, and their plan was to transform the recovery room into an overflow intensive care unit. I also spoke with her about continuing my relationship with Uganda and made a promise to her that I would never forget the wonderful nurses at Mulago Hospital.

I am doing my best to complete this promise as a representative of the SON. This summer five junior BSN nursing students will travel to Mulago Hospital as part of their summer work experience. Three (Sarah Day Dickson, Jenna Woodruff, and Jamie Cash) are planning to stay for a full three months, and the other two (Alison Helmink and Kristen Poe) will travel back with me in July. This is hopefully just the beginning of a continuous relationship with this wonderful country. For those interested in reading or supporting this experience, please visit the official blog space at:


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