California State University, Long Beach
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Social Work Offers Resource, Health Fairs At Local Schools

Published: December 1, 2010

Graduate students involved in a community projects course through the CSULB School of Social Work teamed up with parents and officials from four local elementary schools to offer a resource and health fairs in November as part of an effort to work with low-income, culturally-diverse families in Long Beach.

The CSULB master’s level students have been working with parents from four Long Beach Unified School District elementary schools –- Burnett, International, Roosevelt and Stevenson -– since the summer to identify community concerns and implement solutions. All four schools participate in the YMCA Community Development Branch Family Involvement Project, whose underlying goal is to encourage parents to be more involved in their children’s education and communities.

“The project has allowed students and parents to develop new leadership skills as well as skills in community mobilization and organization,” explained Julie O’Donnell, professor of social work who has served as the director of research at CSULB’s Child Welfare Training Centre since 1992. “Together, they contacted community organizations, sought donations, developed family activities, worked with school principals to secure sites for the fairs and developed an outreach strategy to encourage other residents to attend.

“Both parents and students have benefitted from their work together. This project has helped both groups to learn more about the community and the leadership skills and talents each bring to the planning process. Their work is particularly impressive given that many of the participants speak different languages,” O’Donnell added. “It is also an excellent example of how university students, parents, community organizations, the schools, and city can work together to respond to community concerns and improve our neighborhoods.”

On Nov. 13, one group of graduate students teamed up with parents from Stevenson and International elementary schools to put on a health fair.

“Our students met with Stevenson and International parents this summer and into the fall as well as community representatives and one of their top concerns was health,” said O’Donnell. “They talked about a variety of issues such as childhood obesity and the importance of healthy lifestyles. Eventually, they decided to organize a health fair.”

Visitors interacted with more than 20 participating agencies from all over the Long Beach community. Other features included drawings for kids’ backpacks filled with school supplies and other gifts, as well as kid-oriented activities such as balloon animals and face painting. There were also fitness demonstrations throughout the fair.

The professor also pointed with pride to the resource fair that was held at Roosevelt Elementary School on Nov. 6. Organized by a different group of graduate students in the community projects class in collaboration with parents from the Burnett and Roosevelt schools, the event drew more than 400 people.

Social Work Students Team Up with Elementary School Parents
Master of Social Work student Heidi Na (r) with parents from the planning group.

“When planning for the fair, parents expressed concerns about cultural divisions and a lack of knowledge about local resources,” O’Donnell pointed out. “Parents and students, working together, recruited six dance groups, representing local cultural backgrounds to perform at the event. It was an opportunity to showcase different cultures and traditions.

“The parents brought in numerous donations to support the fair and for drawings to encourage participation. Parents and students were even able to master making balloon animals so children would have fun activities at the event,” she continued. “Numerous agencies also participated, helping residents to better understand and access their services.”

She added that, “Organizing events like fairs give parents a lot of confidence since they now have experience in approaching organizations and businesses which will help them in their future work as community leaders. They also give CSULB students a better feeling for what strengths and resources are in the community and how we all need to build important relations with each other to effectively address community concerns.

The professor noted that it was great that the YMCA was willing to join with the School of Social Work to do the experiment and to provide so much support to the students. In the end, she said, it has helped local families and benefited the graduate students.

O’Donnell believes the diversity of the graduate students participating in the projects played an important role in organizing these events.

“The School of Social Work is fortunate to have an extremely diverse student population,” she said. “It is important in a multicultural community to be able to communicate and, luckily for us, there were numerous Spanish speakers in our class who helped translate meetings and materials. However, in multicultural communities we need to learn ways to communicate and come together even when we speak different languages. I think my students learned ways to do this as a result of working on these projects. It was also great that our students were able to model for residents that people from diverse cultures can work together.”