Social Work students volunteer for children and seniors

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Each year graduating seniors in the Bachelor of Social Work degree program at Thomas University complete community service projects. COVID-19 made such projects more difficult, but the TU students came up with creative ways to serve their communities.

This year one of their projects was creating videos of the students reading books to children at Kids Incorporated of the Big Bend, a United Way member agency providing Early Head Start services to families in Leon, Jefferson and Madison Counties, Florida. Kids Incorporated is the only community-based organization providing quality, comprehensive services and addressing the issues of at-risk families with children ages 0-3 and pregnant women.

“We are so grateful to the BSW Senior Class at Thomas University for their dedication to the children at Kids Incorporated,” said Sara Boscacci, Volunteer Coordinator with Kids Incorporated of the Big Bend. “The children have received more than 20 ‘virtual story times,’ which have allowed them to experience the joys of reading despite the COVID-19 pandemic, which has restricted our in-person volunteer activities. Being read to is such an important learning activity for children during their first three years of life and can make a lasting impact of their cognitive, language, and socioemotional development. The kids loved learning about all kinds of animals (especially ‘Baby Shark’), practicing their ABC’s, and learning the importance of sharing.”

Nine TU Social Work students created a total of 21 “virtual story time” videos for Kids Incorporated of the Big Bend.

Nancy Jones

“I chose to make a video with me reading a book because a story can take you on a journey through your imagination that leads you anywhere and can be anything,” said Nancy Jones, a TU student from Tallahassee, Florida. “I have been an early childhood teacher for almost 26 years, and it brings me great joy to see the smiles and enthusiasm from the little ones during story time.”

Malia Beerman

Malia Beermann, another TU student from Tallahassee, said, “I chose this project because it is something that I like to do which is reading. I have learned that it is important to get kids to read because it is very beneficial to them because that way they can be more relaxed and also learn about different things in a wonderful story.”

The TU Social Work students’ second project was writing letters to the elderly to help them deal with isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The students partnered with Hands on Thomas County to write letters to residents at four senior living facilities in Thomasville: Camellia Gardens, Legacy Village, Glenn-Mor and Southern Pines.

Selina Williams

“I chose to write the letters because during this time in the world right now I feel as if it is very important to let people know that they are loved and that in due time this all will pass and that we are all trying to stick together to get through all of this,” said Selina Williams, a TU student from Crawfordville, Florida. “Especially with our elderly population, they strictly rely on visitation from their friends and family that can no longer take place, which can start to affect them mentally.”

Twelve TU Social Work students participated in the project along with their instructor. Together they wrote more than 100 letters. Some students decided to participate in both projects.

Ashley Denton (right) and Jordan Roddenberry (left)

“I chose to write letters and do videos because helping others is my passion,” said Ashley Denton, a TU student from Moultrie, Georgia. “My heart is with the elderly, but this year children have become very special to me as well, so when the opportunity arose for me to be able to take on both projects I took it.”

Marly Chance

Marly Chance, a TU student from Thomasville, Georgia, said. “I chose both writing letters and making a video for children. It is important for children to stay connected with others and use their imagination. I chose writing letters because they are personal and show the recipients how much meaning they have in one’s life, and this has been a rough year on all of us but more so, for the individuals living in care facilities. My thought is when they are feeling lonely, they can go back and reread the letters for inspiration and strength.”

Jordan Roddenberry, a TU student from Tallahassee, said, “I chose to do both the letters to our elderly community and the videos for Kids Inc. because I felt that both populations deserved a little extra attention after the last year we had.”

A third community project was conducted in Thomasville by five Social Work seniors.

Dr. Debra Gresham, course instructor and Director of the TU Social Work Program, was approached by local organization representatives interested in creating a Wellness Initiative for African Americans in Thomasville.

“This project presented an excellent opportunity for our students to engage in research and collaborate with the community to envision this initiative,” Gresham said.

The BSW seniors met with the representatives via Zoom to identify the needs, gaps in services/resources, and possible activities and programs to address the needs – specifically due to COVID-19. The representatives identified a priority of having a needs assessment survey tool focusing on the elderly population. The TU seniors provided a “Gerontology Needs Assessment” to be used in the community. In addition, the students also provided a list of funding opportunities for future activities associated with this Wellness Initiative. 

“Through this project, I was able to learn the importance of having a needs assessment as a valuable tool to document need within a community,” said Shanice Kelley, a TU student from Cairo, Georgia.

Fredrick Jenkins, another TU student from Thomasville, “This experience increased my awareness of need within the elderly population.” 

The students realized that even though they could not physically be present to do their projects, there were other ways they could spread the message that people care. As new social workers, they wanted to overcome difficulties and help their communities despite the challenges of COVID.

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