UTEP Students Find $100 Solutions to Address Challenges
Last Updated on December 17, 2019 at 12:00 AM
Originally published December 17, 2019
By Laura L. Acosta
For a little more than $100, students in The University of Texas at El Paso's Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Sciences (BS-RHSC) program made the lives of children affected by intimate partner violence a little brighter.
Twice a week during the month of November, five BS-RHSC students joined children at the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence (CASFV) for a friendly game of flag football, basketball or soccer.
Sports activities helped the children reduce the stress of living in the shelter and enabled them to interact positively with adults, particularly males.
“Our goal was to try to improve their quality of life and help them have better social interactions with each other and their peers at school and kind of take their mind off the fact that they’re living in a family violence shelter,” said Johnathan Stacy, a senior BS-RHSC major.
Stacy was among 40 rehabilitation sciences and social work students who participated in the $100 Solution, a global service-learning program in which students receive $100 to create projects that generate sustainable changes in local communities.
Students divided into eight groups and each group was given $100 to work with a community partner such as the CASFV to implement a project that addressed a health-related quality-of-life issue in the community during the fall 2019 semester.
Aside from recreation activities at the CASFV, other projects included a coffee cart at Tippin Elementary School that engaged children in the school’s special education program, mindfulness activities for children at the Willie Sanchez Rosales Family Center for homeless families, and a calming corner at El Dorado High School.
BS-RHSC students also offered free dance classes for senior citizens at the Polly Harris Senior Center, a fine and gross motor program for geriatric women at Casa de Las Abuelitas homeless shelter and a video exercise program for residents of the SunRidge at Cambria senior living facility.
To expand the scope of the service-learning projects, BS-RHSC Director Carolina Valencia, Ph.D., partnered with Social Work Associate Professor Eva Moya, Ph.D, to include two undergraduate and two graduate social work students in the program, who hosted progressive community nights for families in Fabens, Texas.
Valencia, who spearheaded the project, said the service-learning program was an opportunity for students to expand their community engagement and research through creative and transformative education experiences.
“You will never forget the impact that you have made in your community, how much you have grown with the experience, and the feeling of accomplishment,” Valencia said to students during their $100 Solution poster presentations on Dec. 10.
The College of Health Sciences’ Charles H. and Shirley T. Leavell Endowed Chair Faculty Fellowships funded the projects. Valencia is the faculty Leavell Fellow in Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. She is one of five fellows that promote high-impact, evidence-based educational and research practices that incorporate UTEP Edge principles, which benefit health sciences students.
Students worked with community partners on a needs assessment, literature review and plan of action to develop projects that incorporated the five pillars of the $100 Solution: partnership, reciprocity, capacity-building, sustainability and reflection.
Gabriel Fuentes, a senior BS-RHSC major, had previously volunteered at SunRidge at Cambria where he noticed a need for more physical activities for the elderly residents. Fuentes and his group collaborated with the facility’s activities director to engage residents in chair Tai chi.
For five weeks on Friday and Saturday mornings, residents followed the slow and easy routines featured on Tai chi exercise videos from the safety of their chairs. Residents with limited mobility were able to engage in the health and wellness benefits of Tai chi without the risk of falling down.
“We picked Tai chi because we know that the residents have mobility issues due to the aging process,” said Corina Madrid, a BS-RHSC senior. “They have assistive devices so most of the time they wouldn’t get as much physical activity because they’re just sitting. We wanted to increase (their physical activity) with Tai chi. They’re still sitting down, but they’re still moving.”
Madrid estimated that the group spent about $75 to print flyers and to purchase the videos, which the senior living facility still uses to offer classes twice a week.
Coffee Cart Friday
While $100 seemed like enough money to cover expenses, most of the groups relied on donations to pay for items.
For “Coffee Cart Friday” at Tippin Elementary School, BS-RHSC students such as Jozelyn Rascon, reached out to vendors in the community for discounts on coffee bags and supplies. The group received a 50% discount on Dunkin' Donuts coffee, and Southwestern Mill Distributors donated 1,000 disposable coffee cups and lids.
The UTEP students designed the project to help 11 children in the school’s special education program build social and life skills through their delivery of coffee to teachers on Friday mornings.
“We felt that it was very important for everyone to see students of all different abilities,” Rascon said. “I feel that the fact that the (students with special needs) got to go into the classrooms and introduce themselves was something that they might have lacked. Students (in the special education program) are in a different classroom where they don’t get to interact with other students. So, we thought that this would help them develop more confidence and social skills.”
Progressive Community Night
One of the goals of the $100 Solution was for students to make a sustainable difference in the community.
That is why social work students collaborated with Fabens Middle School to host two Progressive Community Nights. The first night was an opportunity for community residents to learn about voter registration and the census. The second night brought the community together to enjoy “Toy Story 4,” hot chocolate and popcorn.
Fabens, located 35 miles from campus in southeast El Paso County, does not have a movie theater and, for many of the children, it was the first time they saw a movie in a “theater” setting. A donor helped the school purchase a movie license that will enable the school to convert its gymnasium into a movie theater for the community once a month.
“The $100 Solution projects support students who are passionate about service learning to work together on projects that enhance the community,” Moya said. “These projects demonstrate how a small amount of resources can enhance lives and engage students early in their careers. These are high-impact educational experiences.”
Social work students also established the first Little Free Libraries in Fabens, which allow children and adults to exchange books for free.
Sarah Carbajal, a junior social work major, said she noted how younger students benefitted from the project, to include how they saw higher education. The resident of Socorro, Texas, about 15 miles away from Fabens, said she understood the struggle to find transportation and entertainment in small towns. She said the work UTEP students did helped the middle school students understand that there is a larger world outside of Fabens.
“I live in Socorro and I do understand the struggle of finding transportation and finding entertainment,” Carbajal said. “I feel like this project did help to impact the kids. I noticed that they were saying, ‘Oh, My Gosh, they have UTEP students here today!’ So, I think that this did impact the way they see education. Therefore, I like the idea of being able to show these (middle school) students that there is more than just life in Fabens. There’s lots of opportunities.”