Making the connection

MARSHALL – In an effort to bring back a vital program, Americorps VISTA volunteer Kelsey Stern coordinated a Campus and Community Connect event that was held Tuesday at Southwest Minnesota State University.

The nonprofit effort was put together to help the underserved population of southwest Minnesota gain access to community resources, programs and free services. Along with educational presentations and health demonstrations, the event centered around three key elements: health clinic, wellness fair and resource expo.

“Western Community Action used to have Community Connect, which had the same concept – the same mission and goal – to help people in the community. My position is with Americorps VISTA, so doing health projects and education, this fit right in that alley. I’m shared between SMSU and Marshall Area YMCA, and I wanted something that combined both organizations.

“We wanted to create a new partnership, and I thought this was a great way to do that.”

Kim Muehlbauer and her young daughter Asiah Howard enjoyed walking around the various booths, especially the Marshall Community Services one, where assistant director Doug Goodmund was on hand to inform people about upcoming community education events.

“It’s very educational and interesting to see all the new things around here,” Muehlbauer said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been to one of these, so it’s something new for me. There are a lot of resources for a lot of different age groups.”

SMSU exercise science students offered free blood pressure checks to visitors. When her shift was over, Emily Wallert wandered around, looking at the other resources at the event.

“It’s a very good opportunity for people to come out and see the many different things,” Wallert said. “It’s hard for students to get out and about in the community and so when it’s in one spot, it’s a lot easier.”

Wallert was excited to see a familiar face in Rebekah Reynolds, a rehab specialist for Preferred Health of Marshall. Along with co-worker Kara Staufacker, Reynolds was quick to interact with attendees. Reynolds also gave a few soft tissue massages.

“It was amazing,” Wallert said after the somewhat painful massage. “I always come to her. She’s like a mother. She just knows how to fix it, and I walk out feeling better every time, just like a did now.”

Anytime Fitness representatives Sam Van Nevel and Shanda Walker offered mini workouts that were designed for people over 55 years old.

“We get to have a senior fitness class,” Van Nevel said. “They get to come in and do a little bit of fitness. My favorite part of the class is when people come up to me, after being in the class for two or three months, and say they’re seeing improvements in their home life. They say they can walk up the stairs better or whatever. To see people get proud of themselves and really get excited about the workouts paying off is awesome.”

Van Nevel said that there are a number of benefits for seniors, including discounted costs and better health.

“They can get a membership at any time, and their insurance will pay for it if they have so many visits,” he said. “A lot of the seniors might not come for the workout. They come to socialize, but they get the benefit of the workout as well.”

Van Nevel, who will graduate from SMSU in May, is looking forward to expanding the seniors program in the near future.

“I’m going to go out in the community,” Van Nevel said. “I know there are nursing homes that want me to do a senior fitness class for them. So we’re starting that after I graduate.”

Stern gave credit to her supervisors, especially SMSU assistant professor Kris Cleveland, for their guidance in the effort.

“My supervisors make sure I’m on the right track,” Stern said. “I always update them on what I do. Dr. Kris and I have worked really hard at getting this put together. I think it went pretty well. It met our expectations.”

Since Campus and Community Connect is something that Stern would like to see continued in the future, she’s thankful for the good turnout.

“We wanted to at least make people aware of what we’re trying to do in the community,” she said. “We’re getting a good amount of people, especially for a pilot program, so I think we’re doing OK.”