Durham’s community connections remain strong during pandemic


Since 2015, Duke University’s Health System Summer Internship Program has provided Durham high school students with first-hand healthcare experience by enabling them to observe staff members from Duke University Hospital and Duke University Health System.

After the pandemic canceled the 2020 schedule, it returns this summer with a new name and format. In June, the now fully virtual internship will feature interactive activities that provide insight into jobs at Duke Health. The internship, renamed MaryAnn Black Summer Internship Program, pays tribute to the late County Durham Commissioner and Duke University Health System leader who inspired Duke to forge a stronger bond with the city he calls home. Black also played a central role in shaping the internship program.

“The community of Durham and the youth were so important to her,” said Darla Wohlfarth, the administrative coordinator of the program. “To keep her legacy alive through this program, I’m sure she would like it immensely.”

While the pandemic has forced people to keep their distance, initiatives across Duke, such as the MaryAnn Black Summer Internship Program, reflect Duke’s commitment to maintaining close ties with the Durham community.

“It is heartwarming to see that even during the pandemic, Duke faculty, staff and students continue to find ways to support the community through service and learning opportunities,” said Stelfanie Williams, Duke’s vice president for Durham and Community Affairs. incredible resilience of Duke and Durham, especially when we team up together. “

From innovative courses to helping on the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19, these are just a few of the many ways Duke has kept his community ties strong during the pandemic.

Support for people affected by armed violence

Members of one of the Duke University Chapel Faith Teams walk around the Eastern Campus.  Photo courtesy of the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham.
Duke University Chapel has long been an unwavering partner for the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, an organization that brings together community members of many faiths to bring hope and justice to lives affected by gun violence.

The group organizes prayer vigils for victims of gun violence, community roundtables on restorative justice and – through the “faith teams” of its ministry of reconciliation and re-entry – help recently released prisoners.

“Often those recently released from prison do not have a community around them,” said Pastor Breana van Velzen, Community Minister of Duke Chapel, who heads a faith-based team of students and members of the Church. the Duke Chapel congregation. “The goal of this program is to become this community for someone.”

Before the pandemic, the work of faith-based teams with “partners” – people returning from prison into the community – was done through meals, discussions and in-person activities. These interactions had to be rethought.

Now, team members drop off supplies such as food and blankets for partners and regularly talk on the phone, via Zoom, or in some cases in masked outdoor encounters at a physical distance.

They try to keep the connection alive with kind gestures, like giving a partner a CD player and several records of their favorite jazz music as a Christmas present. Van Velzen said the team made sure to listen to the music so they could have something to discuss the next time they speak to him.

“The community continues whether the organizations and Duke Chapel are involved or not,” said Van Velzen. “But we’re doing our best to be there, in any way that we can, to be a part of this good work that’s going on.”

Volunteer vaccinators to fight COVID-19

Volunteers from Duke University School of Nursing help with COVID-19 vaccination clinic in TROSA.  Photo courtesy of Duke University School of Nursing.
In mid-February Sarah Cottingham, the nurse practitioner at TROSA, a treatment facility for men and women with substance use disorders, had a problem.

About 200 of the residents at the center had received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the County Durham Department of Health. But as they prepared for their second injection, the health department’s immunization resources were depleted, so he asked if TROSA and a local pharmacy could set up their own pop-up clinic.

“I knew we needed some extra hands, so I immediately emailed Heather,” said Cottingham, a Duke employee whose role is part of a long-standing partnership between TROSA and the university.

The email recipient, Heather Mountz, is the program coordinator for the Duke University School of Nursing Community Health Improvement Partnership Program (D-CHIPP). Since 2017, D-CHIPP has helped the school meet the health care needs of the Durham community by giving students, staff and faculty opportunities to serve in clinical and educational roles with community organizations.

“We appealed to our faculty and our staff and we were able to fill in the gaps that TROSA knew,” Mountz said.

Within days, DUSON had five experienced volunteers ready to step in. And on Saturday February 20, TROSA quickly and efficiently delivered around 200 vaccines to its residents.

“I don’t know how we would have done it without their help,” Cottingham said.

Reaching young minds

Duke students have created activity kits for school children in Durham.  Photo courtesy of Allie Sinclair.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays this spring, tables in the Duke Institute for Brain Science’s multipurpose room were filled with colorful construction paper, pipe cleaner designs, and Play-Doh.

It was for the Brain Connections course taught by Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Practice Minna Ng, and the craft supplies would soon be in the hands of the children of Durham looking for a dose of fun during a particularly trying school year.

The central project of Ng’s course was for his students to create easy-to-use brain-themed learning activity kits for tutoring programs run by the Durham Children’s Initiative and YMCA of Durham, both long-time partners with Duke on community outreach projects.

“We wanted to find a way for our students to contribute and give content in a meaningful way to our partners, but in a safe way,” said doctoral student Allie Sinclair, who helped develop and teach with Ng.

Ng came up with the idea for a course that woven neuroscience and community awareness years earlier, but never found the right time to implement it. When the pandemic hit, Ng realized his idea would allow students to do something for the community of Durham that didn’t require face-to-face interaction.

“Now is a great time to be on duty, it’s a great time to learn more about our community and what we can offer,” Ng said. “The challenges that the pandemic has added to holding this course are real, but they are modest compared to most of what our families and children in the community have had to face.

Duke Service Learning provided funds for supplies and the students contributed their creativity, designing activity kits ranging from crosswords and word searches, to challenges to create brains from Play-Doh or neurons with cures -pipes and beads.

“I love seeing my kids try something totally new from a whole different perspective,” said Kirsten Alfaro, Youth Director of the YMCA Durham. “For my students to look at a brain structure and say, ‘Oh, what does that do?’ and having it be a simple activity to use over and over again is a hoot and a half.

At the start of the pandemic, Duke Science & Society hosted a virtual discussion on how Duke and Durham were working together to respond to the crisis. Watch the video below.

Send story ideas, screams and photos to Working @ Duke via our story idea form or write to [email protected]


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