Since 2014, the College of Health and Human Services Honors Program in Collaborative Leadership has linked arms with local community organizations and nonprofit agencies to help Central Valley residents live well and healthy through the creation of a community project. This semester, the sixth cohort of the program began with a similar concept, but in a virtual-based format. Students from last semester’s cohort got a glimpse of that as their end-of-semester projects shifted gears unexpectedly. Despite the circumstances, their desire to help the community thrive stood strong.
Carmina Faustino and her group mates worked directly with Every Neighborhood Partnership to host an educational webinar to discuss how COVID-19 changed the face of education and to discuss methods of communication and collaboration between parents, students and teachers. The 90-minute webinar “Education in the Age of COVID-19: A Conversation with Parents & Teachers,” featured interviews with parents and educators, who explained their struggles, but also provided helpful resources for community members. Information about how to explain COVID-19 to children and some activities for engagement were also provided during the online session.Prior to the pandemic, the group originally had another project in the works, but decided to adapt to the current situation, thanks to the collaborative nature of Every Neighborhood Partnership, who played a key role in facilitating the webinar.
“Every Neighborhood Partnership’s interest in the lives of children as well as the relationship between parents, teachers, and students, was the catalyst for the creation of this project,” said Faustino.
In addition to inviting Every Neighborhood Partnership’s network, the group members also personally invited parents, students, and teachers to join in. Prior to the webinar, members of the group held one-on-one interviews with participants, including two local teachers and three parents of school-aged children. These interviews were later shared in the webinar as recordings.
Of their time working with Every Neighborhood Partnership, the Honors group shared this sentiment:
“One of the largest and most prevalent pros of this project was the symbiotic dynamic between our group and our community partner, Every Neighborhood Partnership. There was clear communication between both parties, and we were open about our needs, wants, and concerns about moving forward in our project. This direct line of open communication led to mutual understanding, respect, and left us with a sense of true purpose in acting as a cog within a bigger, grandiose machine. Without that sense of purpose and incentive in striving towards the larger goal of executing our service learning project to better serve the community, we would have not put forth the amount of effort and care that we did.”
Other members of the group included Aysia James, Madison Loyd, Jovannie Mendoza, Crystal Sendano and Jessica Seeto.
For Nicole Cloutier and her group, the decision to shift gears was also on their minds when they paired up with Care Fresno – a local nonprofit organization that strives to build hope and healing in under-resourced communities through mentoring relationships, neighborhood programs and local partnerships.
Care Fresno executive director, Randy Mewhirter, gave the group full reign to create their own concept and project, based on their own observations of what was needed in that particular community.
“After visiting the Summerset location various times, we decided that the focus of our project would be to address the lack of self-esteem in the children that attended the Care Fresno Summerset after-school program,” said Cloutier. “More specifically, we decided to attempt to improve self-esteem by focusing on the area of self-efficacy as it related to the children’s perceived ideas of the opportunities available to them for their future.”
Their initial idea was to hold a career fair for children attending the Summerset after-school program in southeast Fresno. The career fair would bring together college students or professionals from various majors and career fields to host interactive booths for the kids to explore.
“For example, a nursing booth might have stethoscopes and coloring pages for the kids to interact with, while an engineering booth could challenge the kids to build the strongest Lego towers,” said Cloutier. “By exposing children to various careers in a fun and interactive way, we hoped to engage them and excite them about their possibilities for the future, thus contributing to increased self-esteem.”
However, instead of actually implementing the career fair, the group decided to develop a detailed program plan for Care Fresno as an alternative, with the idea that in the future, Care Fresno would have the resources to go forward with the career fair in person, when it was safe to do so.
Other members of the group included Kevin Hernandez, Monica Hopper, Ciena Long, Carmen Tapia-Martinez and Saraya Sears.
Since its inception, the Honors Program in Collaborative Leadership has strived to help broaden students’ understanding of other health disciplines within the college, often pairing different majors together in groups to build a collaborative learning environment. Overall, the goal is for students to gain leadership skills in a real-world, team-based format.
Cloutier said the Honors Program gave her that opportunity and more.
“The honors program pushed me to get involved in my own learning much more than I previously had. Not only did we spend time in class discussing collaboration and participating in activities that simulated the need for collaboration, we actually got to experience putting it into practice in such a real life way.
My five fellow group members and I didn’t know each other very well prior to beginning, but we quickly had to learn how to work together because we knew that people were counting on us. The fact that we were partnered with a real organization and the knowledge that any work that we did would actually have a direct impact on the community inspired us to work harder and to put more thought and care into our assignments than we might have if we were simply working for a grade.
I enjoyed my experience in the Honors Program and I believe that I have grown in my understanding of collaboration through the challenges and successes of this project.”
To learn more about Honors Program in Collaborative Leadership, visit fresnostatechhs.com.