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Nursing students deliver care packages to nursing home residents

(Photos by Matt Reynolds)

Students from the community care nursing course for seniors in Liberty University’s School of Nursing brought care packages and the heart of the Lord to local nursing home residents Monday morning for what they said was a small gesture to show the often isolated population that they are loved.

Each care package delivered to residents at Runk & Pratt Senior Living Communities in Lynchburg, Va., contained basic items — lotion, coloring books and colored pencils, blanket, and more — along with a handwritten note from a Liberty nursing student. The activity was organized by the URLUved Campaign, started last year by nursing professor Dr. Dana Woody as a way of showing love to the local community in small, meaningful ways. The boxes were funded through an ILLUMINATE Grant from Liberty’s Center for Academic Development.

Junior nursing student Josie Camiola conceived the idea after visiting her great aunt in a nursing home, where she heard about how some residents at different facilities are mistreated or simply isolated from others. Looking back on her interactions with nursing home residents from her clinical hours, Camiola remembered how patients would often say that they felt more comfortable in the hospital than at the home, and she wondered why. She brought up the issue to her professor, Dr. Cindy Goodrich, who suggested she further research the topic.

Josie Camiola and Dr. Cindy Goodrich

“I came up with a list of ideas of what I thought the government could do and what the facilities could do, but I had a hard time looking at the situation and just walking away,” Camiola said. “I wanted to feel like I could do something about it, I wanted to make a difference. I always have a (mindset) of asking what I can do for a situation, whether it’s small or big, to use my skills and gifts God has given me to make an impact. Getting rid of all of the issues in healthcare, helping all of the nursing homes, it’s too big for me to take on, but I saw what I could do with what God has given me.”

In her research, which she presented at Liberty’s Research Week in the spring, Camiola found that loneliness increases one’s mortality rate, especially in their later years. This revelation helped her view the issue as being physical in addition to emotional.

“I thought that if we made these care packages, we could meet their spiritual, emotional, and physical needs; we could share the Gospel with them, we could make them feel less lonely and more seen and loved, and we could meet small physical needs with a nice blanket or bottle of lotion,” Camiola said. “As a Christian I want to meet their spiritual needs, and as a nursing student I want to help them physically.”

The idea soon spread across the nursing school and was adopted by the community care nursing class, taught by Dr. Woody.

“This is an opportunity for our students to better appreciate and know the geriatric population that is isolated, and they also get to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” Woody said. “The URLUved Campaign was started by us faculty, but we saw an opportunity in (Camiola) to come alongside our students and even learn from them. I think this says a lot about our students. They are invested in learning the profession of nursing, but their investment is also into being a Christian nurse and serving others.”

The LUSON students and faculty who visited Runk & Pratt Senior Living Communities on Monday morning

The students who delivered the care packages Monday were paired with a Liberty Ridge resident, who they will continue to support and love for the rest of the semester. More students will return later this semester with additional boxes for other residents.

Reflecting on how rapidly her idea has grown into a tangible project, Camiola expressed her appreciation to Liberty for how much it has embraced her heart for nursing home residents.

“As Liberty nursing students, we get amazing opportunities to connect with people, and I think the reason why (the School of Nursing) has adopted this so much is because they want to show us that we can dream big and help people. Liberty is Training Champions for Christ, meaning they want us to be the best of the best and to do it for Christ. The School of Nursing and Liberty encouraging things like this is huge because it shows that they really do care and want us to succeed. It’s one thing to say, ‘I want you to be the best,’ but it’s another thing to say, ‘I’m going to help you be the best,’ and they’re doing that.”

In recognition of her work, Camiola was named one of the Rising Stars of Research and Scholarship within the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, of which Liberty has a chapter. As part of the nomination, she will do a virtual presentation in November about her research on loneliness in nursing homes. Camiola was also presented a School of Nursing commander’s coin, given to students who have exhibited outstanding acts of service or excellence.

Camiola hopes to find ways to extend the care package project to churches, which could pack boxes with books that share the Gospel.

“It was exciting to see it in real life, seeing people be a part of this project that was just an idea not long ago,” she said. “The lady who I gave a package to had such a sweet reaction to every item she pulled out. I truly believe that God planted this idea in my head, and now we’re seeing it grow so quickly. I didn’t know that this would take off, but it’s making a difference in people’s lives, and we’ve just gotten started.”

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