Foot clinics treat service center guests in St. Paul through service-learning project
The following story was published on The Salvation Army Northern Division website Oct. 15, 2013:
Blood pressure checks wouldn’t be enough. The nursing students at Inver Hills Community College wanted to do something more for homeless people served by The Salvation Army. Something that left people better off than they were before. Something personal.
The answer: washing their feet.
Since early September, 24 Inver Hills nursing students have held four foot clinics at the West 7th Salvation Army in St. Paul, with two more clinics coming Oct. 17. Their effort is part of the college’s Service-Learning program, wherein students do hands-on activities that benefit the community and are directly related to their field of study.
“Nursing students wanted a learning opportunity that included true and important nursing intervention to meet the needs of the underserved,” said Inver Hills nursing instructor Barbara Hansmeier, RN, MS. “These foot clinics have been terrific for the nursing students and for the Salvation Army guests.”
Shoes off, please
The clinics have been held before and during breakfast at the West 7th Salvation Army, which serves hundreds of meals every weekday morning at 7 a.m.
The nursing students spend about 15 minutes washing each person’s feet, filing their toenails and checking for abrasions or maladies. Afterward, the people get brand new socks.
“The lady who did my feet was very kind,” said a 41-year-old homeless man named Mercy, one of 51 people served at the Oct. 15 clinic. “I haven’t been taking the time to look at my feet because there’ve been other things in life I’ve been focusing on. This got me aware to keep my feet OK.”
Mercy is a struggling musician from New York. He slept under a bridge the night before.
Another 44 people were helped at the Sept. 10 clinic, for a total of 95 people served.
“The foot clinics have allowed students to extend their knowledge and clinical skill in a meaningful way,” Hansmeier said. “The underserved often do not have adequate footwear, shoes and socks. This increases the risks of having skin breakdown which can lead to more significant health concerns.”
Indeed, washing the feet of a homeless stranger is a personal and potentially awkward activity. Yet the guests and nursing students have rarely felt uncomfortable.
“You could see there were deep connections between the nurses and guests,” said Terra Pingley, a Salvation Army social services manager who observed the first clinic. “It was amazing.”
Those interactions yielded genuine bonds.
“Spending time with each guest during the foot clinic gave each student the opportunity to enter into a therapeutic relationship, to listen to each person’s story, to offer support and empathy, to share laughter and joy,” Hansmeier said.
Nursing student Chris Reichmuth participated in the Oct. 15 clinic. He was amazed that so many people wanted their feet washed.
“They were a lot more receptive than I thought they’d be. People with filthy hands don’t care, yet it’s always, ‘Don’t look at my feet,’” said Reichmuth, a former airplane mechanic who’s decided to change careers. “I think the free socks are a big benefit for these people. They’re walking around all day.”
Interestingly enough, one nursing student participated in the foot clinic to overcome podophobia.
“She had a fear of feet and figured that if she was going to be a nurse, she needed to get over it,” said Katie Halcrow, Inver Hills director of Service-Learning.
In addition to holding the foot clinics, the nursing students served breakfast at the West 7th Salvation Army five times and handed out copies of a homeless resource guide called Handbook of the Streets. They also spent three mornings conducting surveys that yielded demographic information for The Salvation Army and United Way.
All of these activities were performed several days before each foot clinic, and for good reason: “It was important to form relationships with the guests at The Salvation Army prior to having the foot clinics,” Hansmeier said.
Although the nursing students’ motivation for holding the foot clinics has nothing to do with religion, those who know the Bible can’t help but think of a certain story.
“In John 13, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples before the last supper,” said Major Jeff Strickler, Twin Cities Salvation Army commander. “In those days, washing feet was a job for lowly servants. For Jesus to wash his disciples’ feet was an act of ultimate humility, service and love.
“It is with this same humility that The Salvation Army serves. It appears that the good nursing students at Inver Hills Community College are equally humble.”
The foot clinics are a prime example of how people and organizations can use their talents to serve people in need through volunteering at The Salvation Army.
“There literally is no end to how you can help,” Strickler said. “We’ve had professionals do everything from hold budgeting classes for the poor to conduct acupuncture clinics at our Harbor Light Shelter. And you don’t have to be a business professional to do things like coach one of our youth sports teams, or serve meals to the hungry.”
Donating to The Salvation Army helps, too.
For more information about Service-Learning at Inver Hills Community College, contact:
Director of Service-Learning
For more information about the Nursing department at Inver Hills Community College, contact:
Barbara Hansmeier, RN, MS