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Students, Detroit agency partner to support low-income communities


On the west side of Detroit, stands a house on the corner of Yellowstone and Elmhurst known as Auntie Na’s house. On Fridays during their summer semester, students in Michigan State University’s College of Nursing Accelerated BSN program spent some of their clinical here, where they grew to understand public health nursing. 
Nursing students worked hands-on in Auntie Na’s house, including organizing supplies in the food pantry, working in the community garden and helping collect donations.
For nine years, Sonia Brown — known as, “Auntie Na” — has been providing care for her community. What started as a small volunteer effort from her own home, has blossomed into a full village with multiple former abandoned homes purchased by her, and turned into community resources like a food pantry, medical house, community closet, tutoring and more. These services are all at no cost for those from low-income communities. 
Brown has partnered with other universities before, to help recruit volunteer, provide care and help keep the village running. The students she had quickly became some of her favorites that she has worked with. 
“I could not be thankful enough for what they all had done,” Brown said. “They are a blessing in disguise, being able to take action and help work in the village has meant a lot more than I can express.” 
Students have appreciated the opportunity to organize resources at Auntie Na’s.
“It was surprising to come and see all the amazing resources she provides to the community, between tutoring, food and health services,” said student Chloe Gordon. “We were able to help her with her vision for the village that she has created.” 
The students got to have a better understanding of public health and the impact that public health nurses have on the communities they serve. 
“Public health nursing is something I wouldn’t have foreseen myself getting into; however, after my time at Auntie Na’s, I gained a new appreciation and could see myself going into that field,” said student Fouziah Tabateh. “My whole reason for going into nursing is because of my compassion for my community, it is made me consider going into public health in the future. 
Working at Auntie Na’s made the students think about nursing in a new way and opened their eyes to the shortfalls of patient care, according to their clinical professor Dr. Rhonda Conner-Warren. One such shortfall is the lack of resources available to marginalized communities.
Conner-Warren said students used Amazon Fundraiser to gather more items for Auntie Na’s. One student set it up and had their community in Bellville help purchase items. Another student went out of their way to buy more diapers for the village to give away in care packages for mothers. 
“The need is so great, and most programs had to take off two-and-a-half years because of the pandemic, so they’re struggling to meet their goals,” Conner-Warren said. “This clinical rotation gave students ownership of community and the chance to give back to a community that has given them all so much.”
Nurses and public health are a natural fit, Brown said.
“Nurses are extremely hands-on in health care, and if you’re out in the community volunteering it gives you a better idea of humanity and barriers that might affect a patient’s health,” Brown said. “A nurse can give you a pill, and leave. But through volunteering, you learn how to provide great bedside care.
“Healing is in the heart; you need to have compassion for the person that you’re caring for, if you can’t empathize with them, then it makes your job as a nurse much harder.”