By Creighton University Communications and Marketing
So much depends upon this little red shopping cart, stacked with toiletries and bedclothes, being navigated through the aisles of the Family Dollar. After all, it contains everything a family of six — fleeing the chaos of a war-torn, faraway nation — will be provided as they begin a new life in a small apartment in a new country and a new city, in Omaha, Nebraska.
Creighton University students, faculty and staff are taking part in a new outreach program: every Friday, over the course of the next year, they are helping refugees resettle in Omaha.
The program, called Global Connections and Engagement in Omaha, is part of the new Creighton Global Initiative (CGI) that Creighton President Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, S.J., announced in his inaugural address last fall.
Thirty campus proposals were awarded nearly $1.5 million through CGI in April. While many involve experiences abroad, Fr. Hendrickson has said that international service can sometimes begin right at home.
“CGI will take more of Creighton out into the world,” Fr. Hendrickson said in announcing the initial awards, “and it will bring more of the world to Creighton.”
This particular CGI-sponsored project assists Lutheran Family Services (LFS), which has been aiding in the resettlement of refugees in the Omaha area for more than half a century. It is one of many initiatives throughout the year in which Creighton collaborates with community partners to improve the quality of life for all in the city. As a Jesuit, Catholic institution, Creighton is particularly involved in projects reaching out to the poor and marginalized.
“It is about more than service, although that is important,” Fr. Hendrickson said. “It is about encouraging our students to become engaged in the community; to listen to the needs and challenges; to learn how to effectively work with community partners; to stand in solidarity with those who, for whatever reason, find themselves disenfranchised; and to use their unique gifts and talents to build relationships and to make a difference, in our city and in the world.
“These types of experiences can be extremely informative in shaping our students for a life of service and community involvement, whether they stay in Omaha after graduation or canvass the globe in careers and vocations.”
Here is a look at a few such other projects:
Project Homeless Connect Omaha
Creighton has served as the host of Project Homeless Connect Omaha for the past nine years. This past April, more than 500 homeless individuals attended the one-day event, which provides “one-stop shop” access to over 40 service providers at Creighton’s Kiewit Fitness Center.
Project Homeless Connect Omaha, a nonprofit organization founded by 1979 Creighton graduate Ed Shada, is one of the most significant events in the metro area serving the homeless.
Along with Creighton, event partners include local individuals, organizations and businesses. City and state agencies and departments are also active participants. Since it began in 2008, the event has served an average of more than 300 area homeless individuals each year. Creighton faculty, staff and students, along with members of the Omaha community, volunteer as navigators assisting guests every year.
In addition, Creighton health sciences students and faculty have provided basic health care services at the event. Over the past nine years, the total number of volunteers has exceeded 3,500.
Reaching Out, Moving Forward
This past summer, several hundred people from the Creighton and Omaha communities participated in the inaugural Let’s MOVE, Let’s REACH Festival, a physical activity day sponsored by Creighton’s Department of Health Sciences Multicultural and Community Affairs (HS-MACA) and its Center for Promoting Health and Health Equality (CPHHE).
The event was funded by a nearly $1.5 million three-year grant received in 2014 by HS-MACA and CPHHE. The grant, called Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked to reduce health disparities within the African-American population.
Sade Kosoko-Lasaki, M.D., principal investigator, associate vice provost for health sciences and professor of preventive medicine and public health at Creighton, said that the University’s Center for Promoting Health and Health Equity-Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (CPHHE-REACH) program is a partnership that has joined forces with community stakeholders in Douglas County, Nebraska, to solve this issue. The festival, held in North Omaha near the Creighton campus, was a way to do just that, and included a variety of physical fitness activities, such as basketball, Zumba, Tai Chi and a 1-mile walk/run.
“The day’s about having a lot of community involvement and participation, reducing health disparity and having fun,” said Mervin Vasser, assistant director of HS-MACA.
Health Clinics Serve Those in Need
Creighton’s student-run, student-founded Magis Clinic, located at the Siena-Francis House homeless shelter near campus, has provided quality, compassionate health care to the underserved in Omaha since 2004.
Recently, the clinic has expanded its offerings to include: a Student Navigator Program, in which undergraduate students serve as patient liaisons; a student-run pharmacy; an ultrasound clinic, staffed by medical students and radiology residents; and a Sexual Health Clinic, which began offering HIV and Hepatitis C testing in January.
“The goal of the Magis Clinic is to provide health care services to those who cannot easily access this fundamental right,” said Creighton senior Emma Schaffer, who served as a student navigator. “I believe that to build a strong community, it is vital to take care of the most vulnerable populations. Providing access to health care to people who are homeless increases the overall health of the Omaha community.”
At the Porto Urgent Care Clinic, which opened in 2009 at the Heart Ministry Center, north of campus, Creighton faculty, staff and students are helping meet the health care needs of the uninsured and under-insured in a community where 30 percent of households live below the poverty line.
“We have established a reputation in the community as a trusted partner,” said Martha Todd, Ph.D., who earned a Master’s degree from Creighton in 2007, and is an associate professor of nursing and one of the co-founders of the clinic. “We want patients to know we will follow through on what we say.”
In 2015, the clinic served more than 900 patients, offering a holistic, inter-professional approach to health care. The clinic recently added mental health and occupational therapy services. Creighton students and faculty in the health sciences are joined by undergraduate and law students in providing services at the clinic.