by Dorothy Bredehoft, SSJ, Ed.D., Adjunct Professor
In the book “An Overview of the Human Services,” authors Kristi Kanel and Melanie Horn-Mallers state that in the field of human services the need for practical communication skills is vital to maximizing beneficial outcomes for clients. The authors add that human services workers need to learn how to present their point of view clearly to workers and their clients. Finally, the authors write that human services workers must develop and strengthen certain personal qualities including warmth and sensitivity.
With the above in mind, 10 Chestnut Hill College human services majors, as part of the class “Advocacy Issues,” visited Saint Joseph Villa, a nursing facility in Flourtown for aging Sisters of Saint Joseph. The students were to become “advocates” for the sisters’ needs while practicing their communication and social skills and extending warmth and sensitivity to the sisters. The class is part of the College’s Center for Education, Advocacy, and Social Justice.
In class, students developed a “10-step community advocacy project” on how to advocate for the needs of particular clients. Initially, the mission of the project included becoming a companion and new friend to the elderly sisters. The goal for students was to “brighten the future for a lonely sister, establish a new friendship, or create a possibility to work in a senior residential facility someday.”
The project’s value statement focused on ways to meet the needs of a particular sister. In class, students worked through data they initially knew along with information and data that they would need to learn to develop further their ideas for the endeavor, “Community-Based Advocacy Project.”
After students became equipped with the foundational knowledge of how to design a community–based advocacy project, they visited the sisters at the villa to gain background knowledge of the facility and the sisters.
Irene Dunn, SSJ, president of Saint Joseph Villa, showed students the various rooms on the first floor. Then students went to the third floor to see the design of the living facility. After getting off the elevator, the students found themselves in a core area with individual rooms lining four different hallways. All the sisters have single rooms with a bathroom between two bedrooms. The students learned that the villa model is “household on top and administration on the bottom.” This tour enabled the students to gain additional data information for the project.
Alyeah Chandler, a human services major at the College, said the sister she visited, Sister Loretta, had excellent computer skills. Chandler and Sister Loretta soon discovered they could bond not only through visits but also through FaceTime, an videoteleophony app. The two continued bonding by using e-mails and FaceTime along with in-person visits.
Other students had the pleasure of chatting first with the sisters before they were invited to have lunch with them in the main dining room.
“This villa is a great place,” said student Ashley Flagg. “My experience with this project allowed me to build my social skills while working in a nursing home setting. I eventually hope to have a job in a nursing facility, and this first experience was very profitable for me.
“While at lunch with Sister Catherine, I also had the opportunity to meet other sisters. Just learning how to listen and share was a gift for me.”
Imani Collier, another human services major, reported that she was hesitant at first to visit the villa because she didn’t know anything about the sisters. Eventually, Collier visited Sister Joan Mickey and learned that she had taught math at the College for many years. Furthermore, Sister Joan shared with her the ins and outs of what it means to be a Sister of Saint Joseph. Collier returned to class the next day enthusiastic about the project and looking forward to her next visit with Sister Joan.
All the students in the class learned throughout their visits to Saint Joseph Villa that perception and reality of the human need are the primary concern for future social workers. Need is framed in the spirit of what the person requires, not what others believe the person deserves or should receive.
The sisters looked forward to the students’ visits just as the students looked forward to their visits with the sisters. Friendships were formed, great sharings occurred, and computer skills were learned. More importantly, as future advocates for all people, the students learned how to set aside their values and listen to the voice of another human being.