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UMMS students partner in service with community organizations

MLK Semester of Service Student Award recipients announced

By Ellie Castano

UMass Medical School Communications

January 18, 2015
  In an annual tradition, student projects to build semester-long community connections through service are announced on Martion Luther King Jr. Day.
 

In an annual tradition, student projects to build semester-long community connections through service are announced on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

  Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

The annual tradition of engaging in service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day takes on special significance this year for 17 students from all three schools at UMass Medical School as they receive support to launch five programs that will allow them to build semester-long community connections through service.

This year’s MLK Semester of Service Student Award recipients will bring the sport of tennis to children with autism spectrum disorders; improve access to fresh and nutritious produce and encourage healthy eating for families; present adolescent mothers with a curriculum designed to help them make healthy choices; inform local refugee children about opportunities for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); and help young men of color in the Worcester area gain access to the field of medicine and understand the principles for healthy living to achieve their goals.

The MLK Semester of Service Student Award program, now in its fifth year, is a community service initiative designed to support student-driven, community-responsive service and service-learning projects in the communities that surround the Worcester campus. The MLK Awards have been embraced by UMMS leadership as a valuable element of UMass Medical School’s community engagement strategy, and now receive dedicated funds from the Office for Diversity and Inclusion.

Each of the five project teams funded this year will receive $500 to support implementation of their proposals, which require the students to partner with existing community organizations. The winning projects are selected by a team of judges based on how the projects strengthen relationships with the community; address community needs and student learning objectives; and provide opportunities for members of the UMMS community to work together and engage with the larger community. The recipients will be recognized at the UMMS MLK Day celebration on Monday, Jan. 26.

These five projects have been selected as award winners:

ACEing Autism Tennis Program
Students: Nisarg Chhaya, SOM; Mary Pat Cavanaugh, SOM; Hannah Hoerner, SOM; Geneva DeGregorio, SOM; Socheata Ly, GSBS; and Joana Sun, GSN

Project description: The goal of the project is to establish a local, permanent resource for bringing the sport of tennis to children with autism spectrum disorders. ACEing Autism is a national non-profit organization that provides an opportunity for recreation, physical activity and social interaction for children with autism through group tennis lessons. In September, the students opened the first Central Massachusetts branch at the Shrewsbury Health and Racquet Club with the purpose of addressing Healthy People 2020 Objectives DH-8 and NWS-11, which are concerned with reducing the proportion of people with disabilities who report barriers to local health and wellness programs, and preventing weight gain in youth, respectively. After teaching eight weeks of tennis lessons for 24 families with the help of more than 35 volunteers, and receiving much positive feedback, the students were inspired to establish ACEing Autism as a permanent community resource for local families affected by autism spectrum disorder.

Community partners: ACEing Autism, Autism Resource Center of Central Massachusetts

Farm-to-Health Center Initiative: Community Cooking Project
Students: Cassidy Mellin, SOM; Jessica Plager, SOM; and Blair Robinson, SOM

Project description: The goal of this project is to enhance the Farm-to-Health-Center Initiative’s positive impact by integrating an educational component into the program. Launched last year, the Farm-to-Health Center Initiative was able to assess food insecurity at the Family Health Center of Worcester (FHCW) and begin distributing fresh fruits and vegetables from the Community Harvest Project to hundreds of families at FHCW. That project achieved its intended goals, supplying on average 116 families per week with farm-fresh produce. The students hope to build on this success and enhance the Initiative’s positive impact by incorporating cooking classes as an educational component. The weekly classes will provide individuals with the tools they need to best utilize the fresh food they are receiving and will help families’ to make healthier choices going forward.

Community partners: Community Harvest Project, Family Health Center of Worcester

Florence House Workshop Series
Student: Gianna Wilkie, SOM

Project description: This goal of this project is to pilot a health and parenting curriculum for adolescent mothers living at Florence House. The curriculum will focus on health topics important for all young women including contraception, sexually transmitted infections and healthy relationships, as well as parenting topics such as conflict resolution, discipline, setting limits and infant safety. Through a series of workshops, the students hope to empower these young mothers to make safe decisions about their bodies and their children. Comprising 12 weekly workshops, this curriculum will be repeated every semester as new residents enter Florence House. If it is successful, the student team hopes to expand the pilot program to other teen parenting groups in Worcester.

Community partners: Florence House, Ascentria Care Alliance

STEM for WRAP: Health education and exploration of STEM careers for local refugee youth
Students: Mark Fusunyan, SOM; Jennifer Perez, SOM; David Ramsden, SOM; Courtney Temple, SOM; and Alyse Wheelock, SOM

Project description: The objectives of this project focus on adolescent health education and exploration of STEM careers for refugee youth at the Worcester Refugee Assistance Project. The education component comprises various adolescent health education sessions to explore a variety of health-related topics including health literacy, the dangers of substance abuse, stress reduction, safe sex practices, basic first aid, the essentials of dermatology and healthy skin, oral health and preventive health basics. The STEM component will engage participants in exploration of career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math.

Community partners: Worcester Refugee Assistance Project, The Southeast Coalition of Central Massachusetts

Young Men of Today: Medical Professionals of Tomorrow
Students: Jessica R. Long, SOM, and Michael Buckner, SOM

Project description: The objectives of this project are to develop a longitudinal workshop series to assist young men of color in the Worcester area in their pursuit to gain access to the field of medicine; provide exposure to career opportunities in the U.S. health care system; demonstrate the importance of healthy living, eating, exercising, and mental health in working toward personal goals; and to build mentorship relationships between the young male high school students and current faculty and medical students at UMass Medical School.

Community partners: WooFood, UMass Medical School, Student National Medical Association

The MLK Semester of Service Student Award program is run by the UMass Worcester Community Engagement Committee. For additional information, contact Heather-Lyn Haley, PhD, or visit http://www.umassmed.edu/fmch/communityhealth/mlk_awards/.