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MCN talks about giving back to the community

Teacher talking to students in classroom

MCN Talks is an interview series designed to give voice to different members of the Mennonite College of Nursing community. Twice a month, faculty, students, and staff are asked questions related to health care, education, or life in the nursing program at Illinois State University.

(MCN) What are some ways that you give back to the community?

Mary Cranston, instructional assistant professor: My major involvement with the community is through America’s Promise. America’s Promise embeds nurses into the public school system through family outreach. For the outreach projects, we try to link nursing students to children with simple or complex chronic healthcare needs in the community. The student then goes and interviews the entire family and tries to better understand the child’s needs. They create a plan of care that not only involves the school but also the child’s health and goals more broadly. The student nurse gets to do something that they don’t usually do in hospitals, and the child gets to see nurses as people who can help them gain the skills and abilities that they need instead of as someone who is going to come at them with a swab or a needle.

After it’s all finished, the nurse then writes a letter back to the family. The letter typically says what the student appreciated about the family, what was learned from the experience, etc. Lastly, the nurse always tries to tell the family something that might be useful to them. Some of our nursing students really do awesome and amazing things with this.

Once, I had a nursing student who was matched with a child who had a disease that restricted what she could eat. Prior to the development of the disease, the family had this tradition of always making a certain item for breakfast. After the diagnosis, not being able to continue the tradition was one of the hardest things for them.

After the assessment, the nursing student went out and found some recipes that met the nutritional criteria for that breakfast item. Of the six she tried, she thought that three were quite edible. She then sent the recipes along with her letter to the family.

Often, nursing students run into children who think that there is no one else like them. They feel separated because they don’t have any peers around them. In one of these situations, the nursing student found a family summer camp. At the camp, the child would have an opportunity to be with other kids who had her condition. There were sessions for the entire family, sessions for just the child, and sessions for just the siblings.

Overall, we never know if the family is taking advantage of the suggestions the students give to them. We don’t facilitate anything; we only provide them with the information. Public health is kind of like planting seeds. You till the ground and get it ready so that something can grow there. Sometimes, you put the seeds in the ground; sometimes, you get to help those seeds along; and sometimes, you’re fortunate enough to see what comes from that. I hope that America’s Promise can serve as an example to other programs. Health care is moving to the community, and we need to move along with it.

Valerie Wright, director for Undergraduate Programs: I’m a part of a program called “One Winter Night,” which is a fundraiser for—they call them our “friends without an address”—the homeless in Champaign-Urbana. I’m the medical team volunteer. Not only do we stay outside on the street in boxes overnight to help raise awareness, but for most of the night, I help with any medical issues.

I am also a certified yoga instructor and use this certification to help others find calmness and peace amongst the midst of life’s storms. Some of the classes I teach are open classes in which community members can come at no charge. I also teach yoga for fundraisers where the class is donation-based with all proceeds going to the recipient of the fundraiser. I’m on a mission group that goes to Costa Rica twice a year as well. I help with the medical part of the mission and teach yoga there too.

One time, in Costa Rica, we were going house-to-house distributing bibles and praying with some of the people. When medical issues would arise, I was the one designated to assist as I was able. One of the people that we met was an older woman who was having really bad knee pain. Upon further evaluation, I found that she had a brace that was on completely wrong. The metal parts that are supposed to go down the middle on the sides were right across her kneecaps, and the brace itself wasn’t even on all the way. I showed her how to put it on correctly. It was a simple act, but it made such a difference for her. Costa Rica is a Third World country, and a large percentage of the population is lacking in resources. The average annual income is $7,000. I’m not even sure where she received the knee brace, but I’m glad that I was able to help. Whether through the practice of yoga or utilizing my medical background, it is such an honor and blessing to have the opportunity to serve others in Costa Rica.

Lynn Kennell, instructional assistant professor: Languages are a really vital part of who I am, and I love sharing them with others.

I was born as a daughter of immigrant parents. My dad was from Italy, so everyone thinks that I would have learned Italian. My first language was actually French because my dad was from close to the border of France. In the 1950s, when I was born, French was the most international language. Both my parents spoke it, and they felt that it was a more important language for my sister and brother and me to learn. I took a couple of years of French in high school to learn some of the grammar, but I learned the language predominantly through my family.

I also know Spanish. I was an exchange student in high school to Chile. And then I did a semester of study service in Costa Rica, so I learned it through those international experiences. I did take some Spanish in college to learn the grammar because, again, I learned it all initially through vocal verbalization.

This knowledge of languages allows me to give back to the community through translation. I have helped with Congolese and Hispanic patients who are non-English speakers, and I’m always happy to be able to speak these languages with them and help them in the hospital setting. The hospital staff knows that I speak multiple languages, so if there’s a non-English speaking client who comes into the hospital while I’m there, the staff will call me and say, “Can you come and help us translate?” And that’s always been an extremely special experience for me.

The other way that my husband and I give back is predominately through our church. I lead singing at my church, I’ve been chair of the worship commission for many, many years, and I help with the children’s music. That ties into my love of pediatrics and children. I cherish teaching the children to sing in different languages. I want them to broaden their horizons. Going to a rural Mennonite church, the children’s focus is somewhat small. It is fun for us to sing in Spanish, French, Swahili, English, and German, and we try lots of fun things!

So, outside of nursing, a lot of the time is spent with music, in some capacity, and a lot of the time, that’s focused in my work with our church. This is an important part of being a caregiver: fostering health through another avenue of life.

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Mary Cranston—instructional assistant professor

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Valerie Wright, D.N.P.—director for Undergraduate Programs

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Lynn Kennell—instructional assistant professor

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