From Food Pantry to CARE Center: A Holistic Approach to Student Basic Needs

When Northeast Texas Community College (NTCC) applied to participate in the League for Innovation in the Community College’s Innovative Solutions for Hunger Relief and Student Success Project in 2019, project lead Carmen Shurtleff had no idea that the next two years would move her social work students’ efforts in hunger relief far beyond the food pantry, or that the changes would occur during one of the most disruptive periods many educators have ever experienced.

The college’s Eagle Pantry was established by Shurtleff’s social work students in 2018 to provide food and hygiene items for students in need, but it was not well known on campus. After participating in Eureka! Ranch’s Innovation Engineering training in late January 2020, NTCC’s project team planned to begin with activities to raise awareness of the scope of food insecurity among its students and of the Eagle Pantry as a food and healthy-eating resource for students and their families. Within two months, however, all plans were abruptly interrupted with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The project temporarily took a backseat as NTCC, like colleges everywhere, closed its campus and moved operations entirely online, but the commitment to this work never wavered.

While the campus was closed, the pantry continued operations with curbside pickup and went from serving an average of 40 to 300 students a month. Home delivery was added for students with health concerns or limited transportation. The pantry partnered with a local nonprofit, God’s Closet, to receive food throughout the pandemic, and added a Cook Nook for dorm students to check out approved cooking equipment.

Through the project, the team also worked with Eureka! Ranch to create EatBetter4Less.com (EB4L), a food education and activation support system. EB4L’s short videos showcase how to purchase healthy foods, prepare inexpensive nutritious meals, read food nutritional labels, use standard food pantry items to prepare healthy meals, and create a personal garden.

The team launched a monthly meal-kit program to raise awareness of EB4L and the Eagle Pantry. Each kit included a reusable EB4L bag, cooking tool, step-by-step recipe card, and local food map. Monthly online and on-site cooking demonstrations showed students how to prepare the meal-kit food.

Other student, family, and community events to promote hunger relief and healthy eating resources followed on campus and in the community to help normalize seeking help. Activities included a backyard crawfish boil requiring an EB4L certificate for entry; community block party featuring food, entertainment, academic advising, and a SNAP navigator; and numerous gardening activities for establishing individual and community vegetable gardens.

These and other efforts led to the opening in fall 2021 of the CARE Center, with a mission focused on providing students with resources through access to education, healthy food, advocacy, and empowerment. Incorporating the Eagle Pantry, hygiene closet, and Cook Nook, the CARE Center also launched a peer-led wellness group, where students gather and learn about healthy living with the EatBetter4Less program.

Finding that students were more likely to be open about basic-needs issues with peers than with faculty or staff, the team established a CARE Mentor position filled by social work interns in a partnership with the Texas A&M University-Commerce Social Work department. To streamline student access to campus and community services, the Eagle Assist webpage was developed in partnership with NTCC’s student services, and through a Feeding America initiative, VISTA/AmeriCorps volunteers are helping students connect with SNAP and WIC benefits.

As services have expanded beyond the food pantry and were rebranded as the CARE Center, the college has seen an increase in the number of students accessing services and has plans for Center expansion. Although the CARE Center is new, early observations suggest an infusion of renewed energy around a more overt culture of caring across the college. It seems likely that the active efforts to normalize asking for help that were started by the Eagle Pantry and continue under the CARE Center are contributing to, if not driving, this transformation.

This graphic illustrates the number of individuals served or reached through these activities from August 2020 through September 2021, as the transformation from food pantry to CARE Center was evolving.


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Project Firstline: Infection Control in Community College Curriculum

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored gaps in infection control knowledge and practice in healthcare settings nationwide. In spring 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) partnered with the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the League for Innovation in the Community College (League) to launch a new initiative to integrate enhanced infection control content into community college classrooms, with the goal of helping healthcare workers start their careers with the infection control knowledge and realities of practice they need to keep themselves and their patients safe. This partnership is a part of Project Firstline, CDC’s innovative infection control training collaborative, and is designed to further integrate essential infection control training and practice into community colleges’ nursing and allied health curricula.

Through this partnership, leaders across healthcare and community college education are working together to develop enhanced infection control curricula using Project Firstline training resources and real-world experience from hospitals and health system teams. Partners and community colleges are enhancing hands-on student learning opportunities within classrooms and community healthcare settings; creating a community of practice for infection control where faculty and practitioners work together on innovations in infection control education; and consulting with hospital and health system members across the continuum of roles to provide input and practical advice on how learners can become part of the broader organizational and team-focused infection prevention effort.

Why Community Colleges?

Community colleges educate a significant portion of the U.S. nursing and allied healthcare workforce. Community colleges also know how to meet the unique training needs of a diverse intergenerational healthcare workforce. Nationally, community college students are racially and ethnically diverse (less than half identify as White), nearly one-third are first-generation students, and most are working either full- or part-time while pursuing their coursework.1 Community colleges, which serve geographically and socioeconomically diverse communities across the country, are equipped to tailor training and educational resources to fill critical gaps in underserved communities.

Infection Control Curricular Integration

The pilot phase of the program began in summer 2021 across a range of community college settings. The CDC and AHA worked with the League and participating community colleges to establish cohorts of faculty teams in the areas of emergency medical services, nursing, CNA/LPN/MA, and respiratory therapy. Seasoned community college faculty within these areas worked through summer and fall 2021 to tailor the infection control curriculum for each professional domain and systematically phase it into coursework.

Participating Colleges

  • Albany Technical College
  • Big Sandy Community and Technical College
  • Columbus State Community College
  • East Los Angeles College
  • Edmonds College
  • Fayetteville Technical Community College
  • Independence Community College
  • Ivy Tech Community College
  • Jackson College
  • Johnson County Community College
  • Madison Area Technical College
  • Monroe Community College
  • Onondaga Community College
  • San Jacinto College
  • Seattle Central College
  • Tacoma Community College

Sharing the Learning: Project Firstline’s Community College Collaborative Convening

The Project Firstline: Infection Control in Community College Curriculum Community College Collaborative Virtual Conference, held April 4-6, provided community college health professions faculty and administrators with valuable resources and lessons learned from the pilot experience. If you missed this event, the on-demand content is now available. While there is no registration fee, registration is required. Register here for access through July 5.

In the recorded sessions, subject-matter experts from the AHA, CDC, and League share details of the Project Firstline pilot program that aimed to enhance infection control curriculum with community colleges’ existing health-related curricula. You will hear from community college colleagues on how they developed and implemented these curricula changes during the project. Additionally, the League hosted working sessions focused on teaching and learning practices and resources to enhance infection control curricula in nursing and allied health programs.

Project Firstline is a national collaborative led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide infection control training and education to frontline health care workers and public health personnel. The League for Innovation in the Community College is proud to partner with Project Firstline, as supported through CDC-CK20-2003. CDC is an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The contents of the Community College Collaborative Conference do not necessarily represent the policies of CDC or HHS and should not be considered an endorsement by the Federal Government.

 

Content in this article has appeared in previously published materials about Project Firstline.

1 American Association of Community Colleges. (2021). Fast Facts 2021


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The Collective Impact of Community Colleges and Communities: Workforce Development With Wraparound Services

The League for Innovation in the Community College (League), with support from the Garcia Family Foundation, is leading a three-year collaborative project designed to support low-income, first-generation community college students in completing credentials and entering the workforce by focusing on wraparound services with community partnerships. We know that educational attainment leads to thriving communities, but community colleges are graduating only slightly more than one in three students within six years.1 We also know that the financial and health benefits to a family with a head of household with postsecondary education and training are significant. However, the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally impacted marginalized populations, including community college students. In the fall of 2020, a Census Bureau survey found that 40 percent of households reported having a family member who was “cancelling all plans for community college.”2

In addition to academic losses, the pandemic has exacerbated students’ basic needs issues. A recent national student survey by The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice (Hope Center) found that “nearly 3 in 5 students experienced basic needs insecurity” and 39 percent of community college students surveyed indicated some form of food insecurity.3 For decades, research on attainment has focused on classroom and intervention strategies to improve student success, but The Hope Center has now documented the layered-on deficit impacting a student’s ability to reach education and career goals: unmet basic human needs.4

Community colleges are known for strategic workforce connections, for meeting socio-academic needs of students, and for being the primary higher education entry point for a majority of underrepresented student populations. The national completion agenda has resulted in community colleges broadening their support services; however, many lack the infrastructure and resources to address the challenges related to students’ basic needs. In this project, the League seeks to model a collective impact, community-minded approach where students with basic needs gaps are connected to community resources and more efficient workforce development support services. This collective impact project brings together experts in innovation (Eureka! Ranch), workforce development (Pipeline AZ), research and evaluation (Center for the Study of Community Colleges), social justice (Changing Perspectives), and community social agency networks to create sustainable wraparound services for students to support their school-to-work outcomes.

Participating Colleges

Arizona Western College

Coconino Community College

Pima Community College

San Carlos Apache College

Building on the League’s learnings from the Innovative Solutions for Hunger Relief and Student Success project, the team is positioning four Arizona community colleges—a mix of rural, metropolitan, and tribal institutions—as community builders (see graphic). The project is designed to help colleges connect to strategic food, mental health, broadband, and/or housing partners and bring a comprehensive digital career development platform—Pipeline AZ—to campuses to assist students with career assessment, education and training, job placement, and related services. This is not only important for long-term outcomes, but also timely as The Hope Center reports “more than one-third of students who were employed before the pandemic reported losing a job since the pandemic’s onset . . . [and] approximately one in four students reported working fewer hours or making less money at both part- and full-time jobs.”5

Dealing with food insecurity in a crisis is just one example of the countless untold stories of the work of community colleges. The adage of trying to be all things to all people has been a common concern among community college employees for decades. It is reflected at times in a perception that these institutions attempt to meet expanding student and community needs because if they do not, no other segment of higher education will. This collective impact project enables better leveraging of community-based partnerships to address the emerging and continuing nonacademic needs of students, which will ultimately positively impact educational outcomes. Opportunity America’s recent report posits that in preparing the U.S. workforce for the post-pandemic economy, “few institutions are poised to make as much difference as community colleges.”6

 

1Shapiro, D., Dundar, A., Huie, F., Wakhungu, P.K., Yuan, X., Nathan, A., & Bhimdiwali, A. (2017). Completing College: A National View of Student Completion Rates – Fall 2011 Cohort (Signature Report No. 14). National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
2Belfield, C., & Brock, T. (2020, November 19). Behind the Enrollment Numbers: How COVID Has Changed Students’ Plans for Community College. The Mixed Methods Blog. Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University.
3The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice. (2021). #RealCollege During the Pandemic: New Evidence on Basic Needs Insecurity and Student Well-Being.
4The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice. (2021). #RealCollege During the Pandemic: New Evidence on Basic Needs Insecurity and Student Well-Being.
5League for Innovation in the Community College. (n.d.). Innovative Solutions for Hunger Relief and Student Success.
6Opportunity America. (2020). The Indispensable Institution: Reimagining Community College.


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Building a Model for On-Ramping Underserved Populations to Career Pathways in Retail Management

Working with the Western Association of Food Chains (WAFC), and with support from ECMC Foundation, the League for Innovation in the Community College (League) is engaged in a two-year project to demonstrate that the WAFC’s industry-supported Retail Management Certificate Program (RMCP) can be a powerful portable and strategic credential to help underserved populations access career pathways in retail management.

Widely available and accessible, the eight-course RMCP prepares and equips graduates with the competencies needed for career success, while propelling many graduates toward associate or bachelor’s degrees. The RMCP certificate is awarded only by community colleges and is embedded in associate degrees that articulate to baccalaureate degrees.

WAFC-approved community colleges have significantly increased access for incumbent workers by removing high school diploma/GED requirements, eliminating placement testing, valuing work experiences, addressing certain barriers to participation by offering the program online, and mitigating cost barriers through affordable tuition rates. However, two major barriers continue to restrict access for a significant portion of WAFC’s workforce:

  • digital equity, encompassing digital literacy and access to appropriate technology and stable internet; and
  • limited English proficiency, specifically the minimum English proficiency needed to successfully complete community college classes.

Research conducted by the National Skills Coalition indicates that 37 percent of currently employed U.S. retail and wholesale workers have little to no digital skills.1 Further, the majority of this population has little to no access to a computer. Many of these workers also have no postsecondary education and represent underserved populations.2

According to the National Immigration Forum, “retail, manufacturing, logistics, food service, and accommodation sectors employ more than six million people . . . . Many of them, while experienced and talented, have limited English proficiency and are given limited responsibilities on the job.”3 This restricts their chances at career advancement and accompanying wage or salary increases.

As the nation has faced a pandemic, a recession, and a movement around social justice, the essential food industry clearly has a responsibility to ensure its practices foster economic opportunity and equity for all. Creating a more inclusive and equitable future for the industry’s workforce will require each employer to look at barriers such as English proficiency and digital literacy to ensure an on-ramp to relevant education for all workers.

This project is building the capacity of WAFC-approved community colleges to offer National Immigration Forum’s English at Work and NRF Foundation’s RISE Up programs to prepare underserved incumbent workers for the RMCP. The colleges are developing nonacademic wraparound supports, including orientation sessions, active academic and career advising, and employer and peer mentoring. Project partners are also engaging regional and national employers and state industry organizations to facilitate employer commitment and recruitment of underserved incumbent workers.

Community colleges embed the RMCP credential in related associate degree programs (e.g., business management, business administration) that articulate with baccalaureate degrees at their local or regional transfer institutions. WAFC has also identified two national university partners—Western Governors University and Brandman University—that have agreed to accept 100 percent of the RMCP courses from WAFC-approved community colleges into their baccalaureate degrees.

Cherie Phipps, Director of the WAFC’s Retail Management Certificate Program, explains that “creating a more inclusive and equitable future for our industry’s workforce will require each employer to look at additional barriers such as English proficiency and the digital divide to ensure an on-ramp for all workers to relevant education . . . that transforms their organization into one that strives for economic viability and provides opportunities for all associates to thrive.” In this project, the League, WAFC, and college partners are using the RMCP to provide the additional education that opens pathways for incumbent workers who thus far have had limited opportunities for career progression.

 

1Bergson-Shilcock, A. (2020, May). The New Landscape of Digital Literacy. National Skills Coalition.
2Bergson-Shilcock, A. (2020, May). The New Landscape of Digital Literacy. National Skills Coalition.
3National Immigration Forum. (n.d.). English at Work (para. 3).


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Innovatus, Spring 2022, Spotlight

2021-2022 TERRY O’BANION
STUDENT TECHNOLOGY AWARDS

Student Developer Champion
Zara Ahmed, Ohlone College

Student Technology Champion
Jeannette Mayo Gallegos, San Diego City College

EDUCATIONAL TESTING SERVICE O’BANION PRIZE

Dr. Cindy Miles
Professor of Practice, Community College Leadership Program, Kansas
State University; Mentor, Aspen Institute College Excellence Program –
Rising Presidents Fellowship; Executive Director, Global Community College
Leadership Network; Interim President, Accrediting Commission for
Community and Junior Colleges

LEAGUE EXCELLENCE AWARDS

Congratulations to the almost 300 faculty, staff, and administrators from 60 member institutions who received 2021-2022 Excellence Awards for exemplifying exceptional teaching and leadership!

INNOVATION OF THE YEAR AWARDS

The 2020-2021 Innovation of the Year Awards celebrate innovations at 32 member institutions and honor the 244 individuals who designed, developed, and implemented these initiatives to improve and expand service to their students and communities. Congratulations!

Visit www.league.org/node/1429112 to access the League Awards Program, which includes Excellence Award and Innovation of the Year Award recipient names and congratulatory messages.


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Northeast Texas Community College: Serving Students in Need

As Northeast Texas Community College transformed its new food pantry into the CARE Center (see From Food Pantry to CARE Center: A Holistic Approach to Student Basic Needs), staff and students used a variety of activities to eliminate stigma associated with seeking basic needs services by making the services more visible and accessible. Activities focused on providing meals, snacks, and information about healthy eating; promoting the food pantry and its expanding services as CARE Center; and learning from students about their additional needs and ways the college could better assist. This graphic illustrates the number of individuals served or reached through these activities from August 2020 through September 2021, as the transformation was evolving.


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Innovative Solutions for Hunger Relief and Student Success

Almost half of U.S. community college students responding to the #RealCollege survey conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice indicated that they had experienced food insecurity within the previous 30 days (Goldrick-Rab et al., 2019). To help community colleges reduce food insecurity for students and their families in sustainable ways that foster student retention, persistence, and success, the League for Innovation in the Community College (League) launched its “Innovative Solutions for Hunger Relief and Student Success” initiative in fall 2019.

With support from the Walmart Foundation, the League is working with two community colleges serving rural, economically distressed areas to develop effective, innovative models for hunger relief and healthy eating that can be adopted or adapted by community colleges and other institutions.

In January and February of 2020, staff, students, and community members at Northeast Texas Community College (NTCC) and West Kentucky Community and Technical College (WKCTC) began training in Innovation Engineering (IE), a proven systems approach to innovation developed by Eureka! Ranch. Trainers and coaches from Eureka! Ranch are using IE’s Jump Start Your Brain portal to work with the colleges’ project teams to identify and develop innovative solutions for hunger relief and healthy eating.

Last spring, progress was slowed by the pandemic, as the colleges worked to move their operations online and the League and Eureka! Ranch transitioned a largely face-to-face project to a virtual format. By midsummer, the college teams were again able to focus on the project, and food insecurity issues were at the forefront as never before. In fall 2020, teams began in earnest to develop and test projects and potential solutions.

At NTCC, the team, guided by IE experts at Eureka! Ranch, is developing the EatBetter4Less program, which includes online training videos on nutritious, low-cost meal planning and preparation, with the option for students and other community members to earn badges as they develop life skills around healthy eating. In collaboration with college and community food pantries, they are promoting the EatBetter4Less program and badges through food and snack kits distributed to students on campus and at community food pantries. The food kits include recipe cards with instructions on creating tasty, nutritious family meals using the food items in the kit.

The WKCTC team is focused on identifying and eliminating friction points that hinder student access to hunger relief resources. The team is creating a detailed playbook to share with other colleges on what worked, what didn’t work, and why, as they carefully catalog details of the projects they test. The college is leveraging its holistic advising model to meet with students not only to discuss their educational needs, but also to connect them with college and community hunger relief and other academic and social service resources. WKCTC tested its first project in November, using grocery store gift cards to incentivize students to make and keep virtual and/or socially distanced advising appointments. The college also held a Students Speak event which included community organization representatives providing information on services students and their families can access. As part of the IE process, all aspects of these and other activities are evaluated, and revisions are made based on the findings.

At both colleges and in the overall project, we are looking at food insecurity not in isolation, but in the context of a larger ecosystem and ways it can better support the basic needs of its population. Learn more about the project and the progress participating colleges are making on the Innovative Solutions for Hunger Relief and Student Success page. We also invite you to share your college’s innovative solutions for hunger relief and healthy eating; click here for more information.

Reference

Goldrick-Rab, S., Baker-Smith, C., Coca, V., Looker, E., & and Williams, T. (2019). College and university basic needs insecurity: A national #RealCollege survey report. https://hope4college.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/HOPE_realcollege_National_report_digital.pdf


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The Art and Science of Culture Change creates a visual, linguistic, and conceptual infrastructure that provides scaffolding for shared…

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