With its focus on clinical care driven by Christian values, AdventHealth University’s (AHU) degree programs are built around a faith-based education. These values are built into the campus culture and encourage everyone from students to faculty, staff, and leaders to contribute their time and effort towards improving the lives of others. With service-learning incorporated directly into AHU’s classes and programs, students can volunteer and work in the community to develop empathy skills, gain invaluable patient experience, and achieve personal fulfillment.
Students often have the chance to serve at local health clinics performing a variety of services, including providing free care to those in need, teaching healthy habits to local children, and more. These opportunities serve to not only deepen knowledge with hands-on experience, but also allows students to make a direct difference in the lives of others, supporting AHU’s goal of cultivating uncommon compassion in its graduates. And, it’s not only students who devote time to community outreach, but employees as well.
Service-learning hours were suspended for the remainder of 2020 in light of the pandemic. Like all departments at AHU, the Community Engagement (CE) team had to pivot to find ways to keep the campus connected with the community. Kendra Presley-Van Houten, director of community engagement at AHU, began to send regular email updates to AHU staff, faculty, and students with resources and encouraging messages to get involved since the campus first closed.
The annual Wellness Fair, hosted by CE, was moved to a virtual setting last year. In previous years, community partners and students set up booths with health resources to educate and motivate AHU members to actively improve their wellness and give back to the community. Topics from stress management to sun protection and nutrition are covered in the multitude of resources available during the fair. The virtual wellness fair in the fall was scaled down, but still included more than a dozen community partners who met with attendees in Zoom chat rooms to engage the AHU campus in community outreach services.
The CE team recently launched the “Better Days Ahead” campaign, which invites members of AHU to submit ideas for how AHU can better serve its community in the coming year. The idea was inspired by the story of a young boy in Maryland who started a community pantry, which has grown to building mobile foodbanks. Presley-Van Houten is hoping to inspire the campus to find ways to make a difference in their everyday lives.
“In times like these, looking for the extraordinary needs in the communities where we live, learn, and work, and creatively doing all we can to help fulfill those needs is our new normal. The needs still exist. We just have to be inspired to figure out how we address those needs in ways that are very different from traditional volunteerism,” said Presley-Van Houten.
AHU already has a food pantry on its campus available to students in need. While the pantry was physically closed through 2020, it remained active to ensure food security needs were being addressed. According to a Spring 2020 survey by The Hope Center, approximately 44% of students at two-year institutions and 38% at four-year institutions were affected by food insecurity at the start of the pandemic. With applications continuing to flow into AHU’s pantry weekly, those needs are still prevalent.
Fortunately, the pantry has received donations from generous benefactors to help keep it stocked. Mike Cronyn, an AHU physician assistant (PA) faculty member, hosted a charitable event during the Christmas holiday. Dressed as Santa Claus, he recorded personalized messages for children in exchange for donations, with half of the proceeds going to AHU’s food pantry.
“We deeply appreciate all the support the pantry has received. We always welcome donations, whether monetary or physical, to help us meet the increased food security needs of our students during this time of economic challenge,” said Presley-Van Houten.
In 2021 the CE team is working to find safe, meaningful opportunities for students to engage with the community and get much-needed patient interaction experience. PA students were able to be onboarded with the Victim Service Center of Central Florida, Inc. to complete virtual appointments with community members. Additionally, Shepherd’s Hope has provided some opportunities for student internships.
Service to others is at the core of AHU’s values and mission. Even virtually, the CE team and all departments at AHU have worked hard to ensure the campus continues to practice and advance Christ’s healing ministry.
AdventHealth University | April 2021