NCCU nursing students form McDougald Terrace initiative
Theresa B. Wilson can remember the date she moved into McDougald Terrace, the largest conventional public housing neighborhood in Durham, off Lawson Street: Nov. 17, 2009.
That’s when she started living in what some people call the “projects,” in what some people view as an unsafe neighborhood with its own set of problems.
On Saturday, Wilson, along with more than a dozen N.C. Central University nursing students, hoped to change those viewpoints. Next to the playground, a community health festival was in full-swing. Neighbors were lined up getting popcorn. Children were having their faces painted as cats and butterflies. Adults could pick up information on nutrition, diabetes, parenting and get their blood pressure checked.
The NCCU students have kick-started the initiative as part of their community health nursing class. But even if they’re planning to graduate and leave Durham in May, the workshops and health fairs are supposed to remain as a permanent partnership between the neighborhood and the university.
“The nurses are mingling and you can just see the walls breaking down,” said Tammy Jacobs with the Durham Housing Authority. She is the DHA’s Resident Opportunities and Self Sufficiency (ROSS) services coordinator, and she said the idea to partner with NCCU was formed after Duke University students worked with residents in Oxford Manor, another Durham public housing neighborhood.
McDougald Terrace will soon be in a state of transition. After the Durham Housing Authority received a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2012, there are plans in place to redevelop the neighborhood, where distressed public housing will be replaced with high-quality, mixed-income housing.
According to Alisha Curry, the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative coordinator with DHA, there are no plans to relocate residents at this time to accommodate the redevelopment. The final transformation plan for the neighborhood is supposed to be presented to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in October 2014, which will include resident relocation details.
Out of the 360 units in McDougald Terrace, 342 are currently occupied with about 875 total residents, mostly single women with school-aged children.
Originally from New Jersey, Wilson said she’s made mistakes in her life, mistakes that ended up breaking her. But as she herself started to heal, she took on projects to heal the community around her. She now serves as secretary of the McDougald Terrace Resident Council. She serves as PTA president at Bethesda Elementary School. And she now represents McDougald at meetings with NCCU.
She said the idea started on a piece of paper in September, but Saturday, people were learning about the effects of underage drinking, of what questions to ask to get the most out of doctor’s visits, and checking their glucose levels and finding out what the numbers mean.
“How powerful was that today, that they were able to get those numbers broken down for them?” Wilson asked.
The NCCU students met up Thursday to prepare baskets of toys for the neighborhood children, from Play-Doh to bubbles, as well as bags of soap, toothpaste and hairbrushes for adults. They had a DJ and raffle prizes, as well as visits from the American Red Cross, Durham Diabetes Coalition and the Community Health Coalition, which has the goal of reducing preventable death and disease in Durham's African-American population.
“We are hoping that students learn how to engage the community and address the needs based on what (the residents) say and what they feel is important to improve their personal health and the health of their family,” said Natasha Hall, NCCU’s community health nursing instructor.
Tobias Myles, 29, is an NCCU nursing senior. He wants to go into pediatrics, and he said this class project is an important way to connect with the community.
“Sometimes you lose contact with what other people are going through,” Myles said.
“... You’re going to have to be prepared for any patient that comes your way,”
“It’s something little,” said 34-year-old nursing senior Asuman Antepli of the initiative. “But in individuals, it’s going to be big.”
Jacobs with the Durham Housing Authority talked with residents on Saturday and listened to the DJ. She said this type of outreach serves as an “awakening.”
“University students may have heard or thought something about this community, and vice-versa,” she said. “… As you can see, this is a peaceful event. There’s nothing going on here. These are residents of Durham. Period.”
And this program is here to stay, despite graduations and busy semesters on campus, she said.
“The faces will change, but the programs will continue.”