Students teach songs in sign language, volunteer as farmhands for service-learning

Students teach songs in sign language, volunteer as farmhands for service-learning

A s part of community and public health courses through the College of Health Sciences, three students chose unique opportunities to volunteer this semester. 

The senior public health majors Donovan Fraser, Jamie Puckett and Brennan Smith were tasked with choosing an organization with which to volunteer. Facilitated by Dr. Ernie Kaninjing, assistant professor of health and human performance, the exercise teaches students practical skills for interacting with unique communities. 

For his philanthropic work, Fraser chose the Life Enrichment Center (LEC), a private nonprofit program for adults with intellectual disabilities established in 1967. At their on-campus sessions, Fraser works as an assistant and helps keep clients on track with creative expressions through music. 

Fraser at a music in motion session.
Fraser at a music in motion session.


“We get everyone situated, make sure they’re all participating and make sure they’re having fun,” he said. “We’re making a sense of community so they know we’re here for them.”

He has a personal connection to the LEC’s mission. Before he was born, Fraser’s mother was told he may have complications. That wasn’t the case, but Fraser would want someone to make him comfortable if he were in their shoes. 
Some individuals have a negative perception of those with any type of disability,” Fraser said. “Volunteering with them breaks down those barriers and those misconceptions you see on television. It’s totally different in real life.
– Donovan Fraser

“Some individuals have a negative perception of those with any type of disability,” Fraser said. “Volunteering with them breaks down those barriers and those misconceptions you see on television. It’s totally different in real life.”

He volunteers for the sense of community he feels with peers and clients. He said the clients he works with open their arms to new students each semester and make them feel like family. 

“In public health, we have vulnerable populations. The individuals I’m working with are considered vulnerable populations,” Fraser said. “This experience will allow me to navigate sensitive situations and talk with different people. I won’t be blindsided or unaware of how to interact with those who have disabilities or intellectual disorders.”

Puckett and Smith also work with vulnerable populations. They assisted at Brave Meadows, a therapeutic horse-riding center for disabled children and adults. 
Puckett and Smith collect new sand.
Puckett and Smith collect new sand.

They typically performed farm work throughout the week, and supported those who need help riding on Saturdays. 

“All our hard work pays off when the children come and have a blast on the farm,” Puckett said. “I see value in the life skills it gave us like time management skills. I also see value in the positive outcomes we visibly saw in the day-to-day farm operations, in the owner Shannon, and the kids that would visit.”

Smith decided to pursue volunteering at Brave Meadows from working with special needs children while in high school.

“My favorite part was being outside and working with the animals,” she said. “After working with Ms. Shannon, I started to appreciate volunteering more, because I truly saw how us being there really helped her.”

After their experiences with community-based learning, each student is prepared to engage with the communities they will become a part of after leaving the university, Kaninjing said. 
Curious sheep at Brave Meadows.
Curious sheep at Brave Meadows.