Students in the Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing and Health Professions are positively impacting communities near and far. Georgia State honors this impact by awarding the Department of Nutrition’s student-run Panther’s Pantry the 2016 Carl V. Patton President’s Award for Community Service and Social Justice: Outstanding Student Organization; and giving the Department of Physical Therapy’s Community Practice in Nicaragua the Outstanding University Program. Also, one Lewis School health informatics student, Alexis Collier, received the George M. Sparks Award. The Sparks Award recognizes Georgia State’s unsung heroes.
Students with food insecurity are welcomed at Panther’s Pantry, a food bank that is anonymous and free. It was founded one year ago, based on the business plan of former students in the nutrition department. Those students conducted a survey and found that 68 percent of students surveyed expressed a need for food.
Barbara Hopkins, the faculty adviser, spearheaded the effort to gain university approval and garner the Panther’s Pantry location beneath the Urban Life building, in a retired printing room. A network of nutrition students runs the pantry.
“I became interested in helping because one of my fellow students shared with me that she had no food and no meal plan. Working at Panther’s Pantry, I am rewarded when I see students who received food have a visual change in their face and verbal confirmation that this service is making a difference,” said Diana Parker, one of the managers at Panther’s Pantry.
The pantry currently serves 30 to 40 students per month. Upon arrival, students only need to show their student identification, then they are asked to fill out a list of their food preferences. Items such as canned meats, canned vegetables and peanut butter are in high demand.
The nutrition team faces challenges, including creating awareness so that students know this resource is available. Finding donors is another challenge. Panther’s Pantry manager Barbara Leydecker points out that people assume students are ok, but that there is a wide spectrum of students on the Georgia State campus.
“It’s really hard to study for an exam if you haven’t eaten today,” said Leydecker. “I see students lighten up when they receive food at the pantry and that is the justification for what we’re doing. They keep coming in the door and still need us, so my take-away is that we have an obligation to help our community.”
Community service is at the heart of the Patton awards, which recognize students, student organizations, faculty, staff and community partners who are making significant contributions to the well-being of others.
The Department of Physical Therapy helped a community in Nicaragua where the population is in need. In January, thirteen PT students along with two faculty, co-directors of this study abroad program, Anne Lorio and Kimberly Morelli, assisted the residents of an organic coffee farm in the small farming village of Los Robles, Nicaragua,
In cooperation with Communidad Connect, the students provided PT services, completed community projects and enjoyed cultural immersion. The PT students also conducted home visits with individuals who had amputations, complications from diabetes, neurological conditions, spinal cord injuries and children with developmental delays.
“Service-learning can be one-sided but this was different because we were welcomed into a mutual effort of giving,” said student Emily Lloyd.
Lloyd and Lorio both described how little things went a long way for the people they served. In particular, a woman in a wheelchair had stayed in just one room in her house for the past two years. The student PTs showed her and her family members how she could navigate around the house and the woman was overjoyed when she was in her kitchen and able to cook again for her family.
In addition to the home visits, students participated in community projects that included building ovens for local residents. Lloyd said they were able to overcome language barriers through hand gestures and a few words, but the most important lesson was how the people of Los Robles help each other.
“The community members are expected to put in service to get their help, such as a new oven, and they get help by volunteering for others. They earn merit points for service and then can qualify for a home-improvement project,” said Lloyd.
A crowdfunding program at Georgia State helped pay for the program and Lorio is excited to bring another group of students to Nicaragua next January. She believes the problem solving skills and critical thinking that students engaged in during this project is the best real-world experience.
“Some of the cultural barriers, such as Nicaraguan women don’t believe in sitting on floors, made the students think about how to modify therapies that would work in this setting,” said Lorio.
Lorio hopes that when the students finish the program that they will still give back to communities. Lloyd is committed to that goal and hopes to return next year. She also aims to spend time working with communities in need upon graduation.