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MSW students to return to city

By : Eric Coker

When Jennifer Marshall recounts the trip she and Master of Social Work students took to New Orleans in March, Third World conditions describe a city that was once the jewel of the South.

Houses still without electricity. Multiple families living in two-room apartments. Elderly people carrying buckets of water and heating it on the stove in order to take a bath.
“I think I can speak for all of us that what we saw was overwhelmingly sad and dire,” Marshall said.

Marshall and 22 students will continue to show their support for New Orleans by returning to the city’s impoverished Seventh Ward to provide social work support from Jan. 10-19.

“A lot of volunteer groups and student groups who have been going to New Orleans are doing rebuilding and construction,” said Marshall, director of field education for the Department of Social Work. “Our project is very different in that we’re addressing mental health and counseling and support.”

Working with an Ithaca-based nonprofit called Love Knows No Bounds and the Seventh Ward’s St. John No. 5 Church, Marshall and 15 MSW students spent spring break week aiding everyone from homebound elders to children of all ages. For example, students got a doctor’s appointment and medical records transferred for a woman who had a gastrointestinal feeding tube installed before Katrina hit and then had no way to get it removed due to nearby hospital closings and lack of transportation. One student also helped get a teenager on the streets for more than a year re-enrolled in school.

Even basic child care at St. John No. 5 Church made a difference.

“A big part of the trip was that we got to give these kids laughter,” said Chad Angellotti, a second-year MSW student from Oneonta who participated in the trip and is co-organizing the January mission with another second-year MSW student, Kira Lallas.

“It’s something that maybe they hadn’t gotten in a long time.”

Angellotti said the new trip will focus on job retraining, resume building, mock interviewing, group counseling and child care for infants and toddlers.

“Why wouldn’t we go back?” he said. “These people opened their doors to us. They were so resilient. We felt a bond with them.”

Marshall said the longer trip over winter break will not only allow the students to do more work, but also will ease the emotional transition back to Binghamton.

Another change is that students are organizing every aspect of the trip, from the itinerary to training sessions to planning fundraisers, enabling  students to learn a new set of skills, Marshall said.

“The students really deserve the credit,” she said. “This is on top of graduate work, writing papers and juggling family and work. … It’s not part of a class. This is students integrating the values of our social work profession and serving vulnerable populations and addressing economic justice. They’re doing this because of their commitment and desire. It’s pretty remarkable. I think it speaks to the caliber of our students.”

Students are doing a variety of fundraisers for the trip, including bake sales in the community and reaching out to local businesses. Marshall estimates it will cost each student about $650-$700. Travel is hardly luxurious: The group will stay at a hostel just outside the Seventh Ward.

One event that Marshall and Angellotti are excited about is a “dough raiser” at Pizzeria Uno’s in Vestal from 5:30-8 p.m. Dec. 15. Different groups work to create a “North Pole” room in the restaurant and then get a specific night in which a percentage of the customer’s meal price is donated to the cause. The MSW event will even feature Angellotti, as Santa Claus, talking with children.

“It’s one more thing that ties us to social work,” he said.

Students from the Master of Public Administration and Master of Human Development programs also have sold candy bars to help raise money for the trip.

“I think the social work students are demonstrating the very best of their chosen profession by taking their skills and expertise to a part of the country that desperately needs assistance and has seen many systems of support collapse,” said Patricia Ingraham, dean of the College of Community and Public Affairs.

One of Marshall’s goals is to work with St. John No. 5 Church to obtain grants that focus on helping pregnant and parenting teens, while establishing a long-term collaboration that will enable Binghamton students to work in New Orleans for a full year.

And when will the MSW mission be complete? Marshall points to a future day when hospitals, schools, mental health services and housing are back and flourishing in the Seventh Ward.

“Are people who want to return home actually home?” she said. “I think when the resources are back and people are coming back, our job will be done.”  

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Last Updated: 10/14/08