Nursing Students Bring World to AmeriCorps By Cynthia Salter Junior nursing student Nicole Thevenot found her way to a new community health project in East Baltimore by way of Thailand. Kate Griffin arrived by way of Togo in West Africa. And Andy Corcoran found his way from Ghana. They and seven other Hopkins nursing students have brought their international community service experience to the school's nascent AmeriCorps program, President Clinton's national service program, which puts young people to work in inner cities and rural areas in exchange for education stipends. All Hopkins AmeriCorps participants are former Peace Corps volunteers and have completed at least two years of community work overseas with people whose circumstances and lives are very different from their own. The AmeriCorps program capitalizes on former volunteers' resourcefulness to reach low-income, underserved and hard-to-reach groups in the inner city. "Just being able to adapt your point of view is very helpful," said Griffin, who works with a Girl Scout troop at Rutland Transitional Housing Program. "You have to work with the people to figure out what they want and need. You can't just come in and impose what you want on them." For Corcoran the patience he learned during his Peace Corps years has been a key factor in his AmeriCorps work at an after-school program for teen-age boys at Rutland. "Being creative and being patient are what it takes," he said. "You have to be willing to look at your work and if you need to make some adjustments, you do it, instead of trying to ram things down people's throats." With faculty supervision, students design and implement programs ranging from Girl Scout troops to childbirth classes, from afterschool programs to drug prevention programs and basic health courses for teen-age parents. For their work students earn $7.55 an hour, and, if they complete 900 hours of service during their two-year nursing degree program, they receive a $2,363 stipend for further studies or school loan repayment. All AmeriCorps activities are in addition to the required clinical time each student must perform for academic credit. "The pay-off to the community is incredible in terms of what we're able to do with this little amount of money," said project coordinator Marion D'Lugoff, assistant professor at the School of Nursing. D'Lugoff and Lori Edwards, a student supervisor, are experienced community health nurses with expertise in inner-city communities. They work closely with students designing programs and supervising their work. Nationally more than 7,000 volunteers work in 57 AmeriCorps programs. The Hopkins program is the only nursing school to receive funding. It is part of a four-university consortium, which includes schools of public health at Boston University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Texas at El Paso. Since its kick-off last September the Hopkins AmeriCorps program has brought students and faculty members together with other local health service workers to provide a variety of programs to their constituents, including teaching participatory health skills classes to homeless families at Rutland and working with young parents in job programs run by the Mayor's Office of Economic Development. The Martin Luther King Head Start has donated space for an examination room; Baltimore City immunization programs have provided transportation for clients. The owner of several local fast-food restaurants allows employees to attend health classes and receive physical exams during paid work hours. "That's sort of the whole philosophy behind AmeriCorps, getting the community and the people involved, not just relying on the federal money," said program director Stella Shiber, associate dean for undergraduate programs. The program's three-year AmeriCorps grant of $500,000 was matched with over $1 million from other funding sources and local agencies, Dr. Shiber said. "We get people in the habit of looking around at the resources they have right in their community so they can help themselves--that's the point that a lot of people miss about the program," she said. AmeriCorps has recently come under fire in Congress and may fall victim to proposed budget cuts. Although next year's funding appears secure, the Hopkins program's third year funding may be in question, Dr. Shiber said. Those opposed to the program say students should not receive stipends for volunteer work. "I'm sorry to see that, because they're not spending a lot of money on us and they won't save a lot of money by cutting the program," said Thevenot, who works about 13 hours a week on her AmeriCorps projects in addition to her full-time studies. "I understand that volunteering is good, but I wouldn't be able to volunteer [without the stipend] because I have to meet my living expenses. I'd have to get a different part-time job." Dr. Shiber points out that the program gives nursing students a unique opportunity for hands-on community experience with hard-to-reach groups. And it gives the nursing school a unique opportunity to provide that exposure. "That's the payback to the nursing profession," she said. "The health needs of large groups of people are not being met, particularly in the inner cities. A lot of health professionals don't know how and don't want to do this kind of work. These students are going to leave school both motivated and able to work in these communities." Dr. Shiber hopes the program will attract the attention and support of other funding sources. "We're not in a position of asking for support and saying we will do good things in the future. We're already doing good things. We have a track record," she said.
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