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Social work project receives grant

Megan Loney | Monday, November 2, 2009

To help defray to high costs of gas, the Tipton County Community foundation awarded Saint Mary’s College a $500 grant for social work students to travel as part of the Developing Lifespan Communities in Rural and Urban Indiana Project.

Senior Kate Doornbos wrote the grant proposal to the Foundation asking for the money to help cover the cost of students’ travel expenditure.

The Developing Lifespan Communities in Rural and Urban Indiana Project, which has been in effect for one year, has two main purposes, Dr. JoAnn Burke, chair of the department of social work, said.

The first is to demonstrate to both Tipton and St. Joseph counties that we need to help our communities become better places to both grow up and grow old, she said.
The second is to help students prepare to work and live in our society which has a large number of people who are growing older.

Burke said she feels this is an important area of research due to longer life expectancy.
“Our society is only beginning to adapt to the reality that more of us are living longer than ever before,” Burke said.  “Higher education needs to prepare our students for this reality by offering learning opportunities in new and existing courses.  It is an exciting time to be alive in history because never before have so many of us lived for so long.”

Third-year students in Burke’s Social Work Practice with Groups class are participating in this project.  They are focusing on one rural county — Tipton — and one urban county — St. Joseph.

As part of this project, students conduct research focus groups with community members in Tipton and St. Joseph Counties in order to learn how the counties are evolving to be able to better serve the needs of people of all ages.

Students direct the groups with questions about the availability of health and social services, transportation, universal housing (houses for individuals even if they develop disabilities), sidewalks and crosswalks for children and adults with disabilities to use within the two counties, Burke said. 

Transportation is an especially important topic for people who are unable to drive.  They lose their independence if they live in an area without public transportation, Burke said.
After three years, the results of these focus groups will be combined into one written study.
Addressing the second half of the project’s goal, Burke believes that this project prepares students for futures centered on community welfare.

“Our current social work students are being prepared through this opportunity to be involved with urban planners, health care administrators, social service administrators, federal and state and city officials, schools and other institutions to help us better prepare our communities to make needed changes,” Burke said.

Burke said she is excited Saint Mary’s is beginning to offer learning opportunities based on our society where there are more of us living longer than ever before.