UMass students spending spring break assisting local organizations
● By Richard Gaw
Were the world beholden to truth in stereotypes, seven students from the University of Massachusetts Boston who are visiting Chester County this week would be spending their spring break this week in a warm climate, in the company of thousands of other collegians on a one-week respite from academia.
Because stereotypes are often broken, however, the students spent their Monday morning in West Grove, helping to package medical supplies at Project C.U.R.E., the Mid-Atlantic distribution center for the Commission on Urgent Relief and Equipment, that will eventually find their way into the hands of medical professionals throughout the world. At the same time, five other UMass students were being given ride-along tutorials by the Southern Chester County Medic-94 Emergency Medical Services at Jennersville Hospital.
Under the direction of team leader Sara Servano, a junior communications major, the students are in Chester County this week as part of the university's Beacon Voyages for Service (BVS), an “alternative break” on-campus program that is part of a national movement to engage students in service. BVS involves students in a social justice movement by participating in week-long trips both domestically and internationally and through on-campus commitments throughout the year, addressing such issues as HIV/AIDS health; border, refugee and immigration; the environment; rural and urban poverty; domestic violence, and many others.
The educational opportunities with Project C.U.R.E. and Medic 94 are just a small part of what will be a busy week for the students. They are also scheduled to participate in hands-on CPR, heart attack and overdose response seminars with Sgt. Tammy Whiteman; tour the facilities at Kaolin Mushroom Farms and volunteer at La Communidad Hispana, where they will receive an overview of LCH's health center and how it educates the local Hispanic population about health issues. The students will also help purchase healthy groceries for LCH families, and create congratulatory goodie bags for new mothers in the LCH community.
“The focus of this trip concerns public health from various aspects,” said Servano, who is in her third year with Beacon Voyages for Services. “We approached this trip from a social justice point of view. We wanted to know how public health is being addressed in Pennsylvania, specifically, what's going on in the learning aspect in terms of how healthcare education is reaching the community.”
Chester County is Servano's third service trip with BVS. Previously, she visited Washington, D.C. With BVS to explore how the city was addressing hunger and homelessness. She also visited Chicago with BVS to focus on how the city was tackling education and poverty.
“After my second service trip, I knew I wanted to go on my own trip as a trip leader,” she said. “I began to research on Google in order to find organizations related to health, and Project C.U.R.E. came up. I was interested in the fact that Project C.U.R.E. is a local distributor, but with world-wide impact.
“The hands-on work that's being done here is impacting countries all over the world, so consequently, we're able to do the same. Just the fact that we get to be to be a small portion of the amazing things they're doing was intriguing to me.”
“We're fortunate that they came to us because we are able to give them that global impact picture – how one can work locally and impact globally – as well as connect them to our community and saying, 'These are the issues that suburban America works with. How do we meet the medical needs of all of our community members?' said Project C.U.R.E.'s director of operations. “They are getting the best of the small town and the big, wide world, and the opportunity understand what role they could play in that bigger vision.”
The student's visit to Project C.U.R.E. occurred at the same time volunteers were beginning to load a transportation vehicle that will serve as the first leg of a journey that will transport hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of medical supplies to Grenada, to support medical and surgical mission work in the country. The distribution will be the ninth that Project C.U.R.E. has made since last June, joining deliveries that have been made to Nigeria, Ghana, Cuba, Mozambique, Suriname, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and two distributions to Armenia – totaling an estimated value of $2.17 million worth of distributed medical supplies.
Project C.U.R.E. also works with student volunteers at the University of Delaware, West Chester University, Lincoln University, Cheyney University and Widener University – among hundreds of yearly volunteers from local businesses, organizations, hospitals, schools and retirement facilities.
“The enthusiasm of the groups that come in continues to grow,” said George Hatzfeld, Project C.U.R.E.'s facility assessor. “It's one of the features of doing this kind of work. People see the value in it. They get their hands into it. They feel that there's a background commitment there that they want to buy into, so we get a lot of repeat customers.”
For Niti Patel, a pre-med major from Tennessee; Teodora Padure, a nursing major from the Republic of Moldova; and Nia Pinto, an exercise and health sciences major from Massachusetts, using Chester County as a working classroom this week serves as a springboard to their future careers as health professionals. For Patel, her BVS trip provides her with a hands-on glimpse into how public health is administered, locally and globally.
“I think public health is a wide field and there's so much scope to it,” she said. “I'm interested in learning more about health disparities – understanding why not everyone gets the same access to health resources, both in different countries and in parts of the United States. Too often, one's background, gender and place of residence plays into whether or not one is able to get access to health care and resources at the right time.
I really want to use my service in education to help people,” Patel added. “I don't understand why people to have to pay the extraordinary price they do for health care. I want to discover ways to provide that service and education for free. That's why I think volunteering is incredibly important.
For Padure, it's a chance for her to tack on valuable lessons to her education, which she hopes to some day bring to her native country.
“I became very interested in public health once I did research about nursing, and I realized how important education is in terms of health care,” she said. “Coming from my country, I began to see how much health care education America has, as opposed to Moldova.”
“These students have chosen a very noble and worthy pursuit in their lives, and we want to introduce them to our medical assistants, our dentists and our therapists,” said Laura Mackiewicz, LCH's community engagement and programs manager. “What they learn now will help create positive changes on so many levels, locally and globally. The career choices they make are truly going to change lives in communities just like ours.
“This may serve as a glimpse into what could be next for them, to give them an idea that the communities they will work with in the future may closely resemble what they will experience here.”
For Pinto, spending her spring break in Chester County allows her to continue to plant seeds for a career that will be devoted in part to educating the public about health care.
“You don't have to work for the Centers for Disease Control in order to make an impact,” she said. “You can get started with your local community, in order to gain knowledge. It's vital that every citizen in every country gets the right information about their health.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.