August 23, 2017
By Greg Peters
Armed with brooms, buckets, brushes and a boatload of enthusiasm, bevies of blue-clad Jayhawks sporting "We Are KU" T-shirts fanned out across Wyandotte County this summer, volunteering their time and energy as part of Community Service Days.
Each year, KU Medical Center designates two days for community service in Wyandotte County as a way of giving back to the community where KU Medical Center is located, and welcoming students to campus. The first service day in July is primarily for incoming students in the School of Medicine and the second date in August involves students from the Schools of Health Professions and Nursing along with some graduate students. The days are sponsored by the University of Kansas Medical Center Office of Student Life.
"I grew up in poverty, so I have a natural inclination to want to give back," said Jennifer Brooks, a first-year medical student from Fort Collins, Colorado. "I came to KU for medical school because KU is really focused on community, and that really spoke to my heart."
"Community service is incredibly important," said Ali Rickert, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing student from Wichita, who was part of a team working at Giving the Basics, which partners with local nonprofits and school districts to provide necessary items for daily life. "By participating, we are able to truly see into the lives of others in our community. It reminds us just how fortunate we are, and inspires us to find ways to provide for the needs we may have never recognized before."
More than 150 students from the School of Nursing, the School of Nursing-Salina and the School of Health Professions took part in Community Service Day on Aug. 17, which is part of the annual Hawk Week. Students spent the morning painting, sorting, cleaning and doing other assorted jobs for nine agencies across Wyandotte County.
"I come from a rural community, and I'm used to the community pulling together," said Tim Nolte, a junior in the Department of Health Information Management. "This opportunity allows me to get out of my comfort zone and meet other students. It also helps me appreciate what I have."
"A lot of times nutrition disparities are caused by people not having the personal hygiene items they need, and as a result they may be reluctant to go shopping for the food items they need," said Sarah Conniff, a dietetics internship program student from Grandview, Missouri. "If we can provide a solution for even one cause of nutrition issues, it can mean that tons of people will be spared having to visit the hospital or doctor because of health issues."
During the two Community Service Days, an estimated 1,352 volunteer hours were logged by the students working for 13 agencies in Wyandotte County - the equivalent of $32,637. And while giving back to the community is an important component of Community Service Day, students also benefitted from time spent learning about their classmates and building interprofessional bonds with students from other schools at KU Medical Center.
"It's so important to volunteer because it helps us give back to the community by helping others," said Drue Bailey, a nursing student from Overland Park, who was arranging furniture at a thrift store run by Cross-Lines Community Outreach. "And it helps us to build close ties with each other as a team."
One hundred and eighty-seven students from the School of Medicine spent part of July 26 volunteering at 14 locations for 11 agencies. Community Service Day is traditionally part of the orientation process for incoming medical students, and participants spent the morning at locations ranging from the Duchesne Clinic to the Rosedale Development Association, providing support in any way they could.
"I like the supportive community here at KU, and I feel good about what we are doing today," said Jordan Kai Simmons, who spent time painting the porch at private home for the Rosedale Development Association "It's nice to be out in the community making a difference. The work we've done in just a couple of hours is significant."
"It's important to volunteer because this is our new community," said Jim Barnett, a medical student who was taking a break from wielding a power trimmer at Hillcrest Transitional Housing. "As students at KU Medical Center, we really need to become involved. We're able-bodied and can help, so having the opportunity to volunteer is something we should take advantage of. It benefits the people of the community and us as students."
And for those on the receiving end of the efforts, getting a helping hand from the students was a welcome gesture as well. Mary Beth Gentry, who was an associate dean in the School of Medicine until 2005, has a soft spot in her heart for KU Medical Center and its students.
"This is really, really important for the students to get a feeling for what the community is all about, and to set the stage for their next four years and beyond," said Gentry, founder and executive director of Young Women on the Move, a nonprofit that helps girls believe in themselves. "It helps give them a better perspective of some of the situations they'll be seeing in the clinics. I believe this is a win-win for us, our young ladies, and KU Medical Center."
And for many of the students, the lessons learned while studying at KU Medical Center will serve as a pathway for their volunteer efforts in the future. "I wanted to join the HIM (Health Information Management) program so I could someday help veterans who suffer from PTSD and are homeless and can't take care of themselves," said Bailey Prosser, a junior from Arlington, Virginia. "And that will be a good way to give back to my community as a professional."
In Salina, the eight incoming students from the KU School of Medicine-Salina spent a day in August running vacuums, scrubbing floors and helping give the Rebecca A. Morrison House a deep cleaning. The Morrison House, which opened in 1993, serves families whose loved ones are being treated at Salina Regional Hospital or Salina Surgical Hospital, and for patients of the Tammy Walker Cancer Center.
In Wichita, members of the incoming class of the School of Medicine spent time on Volunteer Day at the Salvation Army of Kansas and Western Missouri, Exploration Place and Botanica Gardens.