Student Mentors Inmates at Local Correctional Facility

By Caitlin Mack ’12 (T5)
Univ. Communications

As a participant in the 2012-2013 Meliora Leaders program, Kelly Scull ’14 is making a difference as a mentor at the Monroe County Correctional Facility. Scull’s program, “Loss to Success,” gives women a sense of hope and direction in dealing with issues like loss of money, job, and home as a result of being incarcerated.

Scull is one of five Meliora Leaders that participates in community service initiatives through the Rochester Center for Community Leadership (RCCL) at the University of Rochester. Meliora Leaders create individualized service projects, allowing them to exercise intensive leadership in the Rochester community for an extended period of time. The program benefits organizations and individuals in need while providing a substantial learning experience for the students involved.

“My goal with this program is to empower at least one woman,” says Scull. “We talk about the effects of loss in their lives, but also about goal-setting.”

The New Hope, Pa., native was inspired to create ”Loss to Success” after participating in “Yes Pa,” a program offered through UR’s St. Sebastian’s Society in which college students read a book with inmates.

Scull visits the correctional facility three times a week, usually to meet with female inmates. Topics discussed range from addiction to education, and Scull often sparks discussion with an article. Other days, Scull observes groups that deal with issues like addiction and trauma to get a better understanding of how she can be a good leader and mentor.

For Scull, the most difficult thing about the program has been gaining the trust of the women she mentors.  Most of the women Scull has talked to are usually older than her, between the ages of 25 and 50, and have experienced trouble with drugs and prostitution, among other difficult life experiences. However, Scull found that once she gained their trust, she was able to learn some incredible stories.

Scull says about five women come regularly to her discussions, where she finds that just “having someone they can trust talking to” can make an impact. “You get close with these women and you feel for them,” says Scull. “They’re not bad people; they’ve just made some bad decisions.”

Scull double majors in business and political science and also is interested in psychology and teaching. In addition to being a Meliora Leader, she is president of Sigma Delta Tau, a teaching assistant for economics and political science classes, and plays varsity women’s basketball.

“I really enjoy helping them and it’s my way to give back,” says Scull. “Just getting told ‘thank you’… it’s something I enjoy doing.”

This article is part four of a series that features the Meliora Leaders of 2012-2013. Undergraduates interested in participating in the program should look for information on the RCCL page in the coming months. Information about the program can be found on the RCCL page athttp://rochester.edu/college/rccl/meliora.html.

Meliora Leader Tackles Smoking Cessation

By Caitlin Mack ’12 (T5)
Univ. Communications

Sanah Ali ’13 is part of an initiative to tackle smoking, one of America’s most controversial, decades-long health issues, as part of the Meliora Leaders Program at the Rochester Center for Community Leadership (RCCL).  Ali is working with the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Healthy Living Center (HLC) to help conduct a five year follow-up study to the Smoker’s Health Project, which includes advising patients interested in quitting smoking and recruiting those interested in services at the clinic.

The tobacco program offered by the HLC is free for U of R employees and allows smokers to meet with a doctor or a psychologist.  Program participants undergo a health evaluation and are given a doctor-prescribed “quit plan” of personalized and some not-so-obvious methods to quit smoking, in addition to medications that aid withdrawal symptoms if necessary.

“We find out about U of R employees who smoke via a voluntary personal health assessment.” says Ali.  “Helping them come in is the first hurdle. Often people wait for indications of decimating health before seeking help.”

For Ali, one of the hardest parts of her work has been broaching the subject of smoking with potential program participants. “It’s not like you can go up to someone and ask if they want to quit smoking,” says Ali. “Some people find it rude or may not want to be identified as smokers. Helping people in a polite and effective way is what I’m aiming for.”

On the other hand, Ali’s favorite part of the experience has been hearing the life stories and unique experiences (struggles and successes) with tobacco of the patients she works with.

One thing that surprised Ali was the strong stigma against medications recommended to help people quit.  As a result, she hopes to “increase awareness that although meds may have side effects or may add to concerns about dependence, these meds are not addictive and are for temporary use. The adverse effects of continuing to smoke overshadow any side effects of meds.”

Ali is intrigued by the biopsychosocial model of medicine developed at Rochester decades ago by Drs. George Engel and John Romano and hopes to incorporate aspects of it in the future as a practicing physician.

“The biopsychosocial model exemplifies the concept of holistic patient care, and points out that intrinsic motivation, living situation, lifestyle, support from family or friends, and mental health affect the likelihood of a long-lasting quit,” says Ali. “There’s only so much that a health care practitioner can do.”  In addition, Ali explains, “If someone smokes and everyone else in the environment does too, it’s going to be a lot tougher for them to quit because of the constant reminder.”

Ali also explains that there is increasing evidence for interplay between factors affecting smoking habits. For example, we know that caffeine stays in your system 40 percent longer when you’re not smoking and can increase anxiety and nicotine cravings; as a result, patients are advised to reduce their caffeine intake when they are trying to quit smoking.  Other unpopular side effects of smoking cessation include experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms or weight gain due to changes in metabolism.

Ali, a Pittsford, N.Y. native and a cell and developmental biology major, hopes to pursue a career in healthcare and continue her involvement with smoking cessation. She intends to expand her work to free clinics, including “UR Well,” a clinic for uninsured patients and “UR Street Medicine” for the homeless population. She also is interested in promoting tobacco awareness at primary schools. In addition to her efforts in Rochester, Ali has travelled to Islamabad, Pakistan to study the smoking habits of high school students there.

Ali is one of five students accepted to the Meliora Leaders Program for the 2012-2013 academic year. The program, offered through the Rochester Center for Community Leadership (RCCL), gives undergraduates the chance to create individualized service projects, allowing them to exercise intensive leadership in the Rochester community for an extended period of time. The program benefits organizations and individuals in need while providing a substantial learning experience for the students involved.

This article is part three of a series that features the Meliora Leaders of 2012-2013. Undergraduates interested in participating in the program should look for information on the RCCL page in the coming months. Information about the program can be found on the RCCL page at http://rochester.edu/college/rccl/meliora.html.

Oladoyin Oladeru ’13 Leads Nonviolence Program for Middle Schoolers

By Caitlin Mack ’12 (T5)
Univ. Communications

Last year, Oladoyin Oladeru ’13 mentored middle school students about the benefits of nonviolence during in-school suspension hours and decided he wanted to create an after school program of a similar nature.  With help from the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence and fellow University of Rochester undergraduates, Oladeru established the Young Men at Peace program last fall.  The program allows 6th, 7th, and 8th grade male students at Dr. Charles Lunsford School #19 the unique opportunity to explore a wide range of important issues related to nonviolence.

Oladeru is one of five students chosen to be a 2012-20130 Meliora Leader, a new community service initiative through the Rochester Center for Community Leadership (RCCL). Meliora Leaders create individualized service projects, allowing them to exercise intensive leadership in the Rochester community for an extended period of time. The program benefits organizations and individuals in need while providing a substantial learning experience for the students involved.

The topics addressed in Young Men at Peace are meant to inform the middle schoolers about the power of nonviolent self-transformation to overcome physical and mental obstacles. This includes awareness of positive lifestyle choices and social interactions, how to become better advocates against community and school violence, and learning about social justice heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi.

In addition to Oladeru, other Young Men at Peace undergraduate mentors include Milan Byrdwell ’14, Reginald Hooks ’15, Shaquill McCullers ’14, Michael Mobarak ’15, Carl Parker ’13, and Taurean Parker ’13. All six undergraduates, whom Oladeru gathered before the start of the program last fall, serve as a source of inspiration for the students.

“We want to make the dream of obtaining a college education more attainable by showing them young men from the U of R who are living proof,” says Oladeru.

George Payne, who works at the Gandhi Institute as a Peace and Justice Educator and helps oversee the program, applauds Oladeru’s “vision and dedication,” for allowing the students involved to form “meaningful bonds with mentors in college who know about their challenges and believe in their potential.”  Echoing Payne’s praise is Principal Eva Thomas, who has called the Young Men at Peace program a “blessing” to her school.

Oladeru exercises his own life experiences while serving as a nonviolence ambassador to the young males of School # 19.  Oladeru moved from Lagos, Nigeria to the United States when he was nine years old and lived in the Bronx until college.  Around the age of the students he now mentors, Oladeru was bullied for being foreign, African, and studious. A personal “turning point” that alerted him to the importance of nonviolence occurred in 6th grade when his friend got shot on his way home after school.

“Mentorship is really important, especially at a young age,” says Oladeru. “I remember giving into peer pressure when I came to this country and I think this is an issue most prevalent with young males at that age.  It’s not enough to have two parents at home because they can’t relate and there’s only so much they can understand.”

Oladeru, who is set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in epidemiology this May, is a McNair Scholar, a Ronald McDonald scholar, a Gilman Scholar, and a Gates Millennium Scholar.  In addition to being a Meliora Leader, he works at Carlson Library and is a Resident Advisor.  He hopes to get a master’s and doctoral degree in epidemiology and conduct population-based research in cardiovascular disease.

Oladeru has high hopes for the future of the program because the young male participants have noticeably progressed as a result of the efforts of Oladeru, his fellow UR mentors, and the Gandhi Institute.  The number of attendees has been steadily increasing and Oladeru aims for a total of 15 boys that come on a regular basis. He also hopes to plan field trips to the U of R campus, Foodlink, and Darien Lake to teach them about rules in different social settings and inspire them to be respectful no matter where you are.

“To see someone with a similar background having made it goes a long way,” says Oladeru. “The greatest joy for me is that I got people interested in volunteering who really care. We go back every week and it makes a difference.”

This article is part two of a series that features the Meliora Leaders of 2012-2013. Undergraduates interested in participating in the program should look for information on the RCCL page in the coming months. Information about the program can be found on the RCCL page at http://rochester.edu/college/rccl/meliora.html.

In the photos: Photo 1: Oladoyin Oladeru with one of the young men in his program. Photo 2: Oladoyin Oladeru and a group of University of Rochester undergraduate mentors teach male students from Dr. Charles Lunsford School #19 about the benefits of nonviolence.

Meet Samantha Whalen: Meliora Leader

By Caitlin Mack ’12 (T5)
Univ. Communications

Though only a sophomore, Samantha Whalen ’15 has managed to effectively find a  real-world application for her majors in anthropology and health, behavior & society and complement her interests in peer health advocacy and community outreach. As a participant in the Meliora Leaders Program, Whalen was given the opportunity to volunteer at the Sojourner House, a transitional housing program for homeless women and children located in the 19th ward community. There, she helps residents plan and cook healthy, nutritious meals.

For the 2012-2013 academic year, five Rochester students, including Whalen, were selected as inaugural participants in the Meliora Leaders program. Designed to support and incentivize community-based leadership among Rochester students, the new initiative is a part of the Rochester Center for Community Leadership (RCCL).

In addition to serving as publicity chair of the Refugee Student Alliance on campus and volunteering as a part of community service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, Whalen will spend the year running a local community service project, embodying the University motto by “seeking to ameliorate the Rochester community.”

In exchange for 300 hours of service throughout the academic year, leaders receive supplemental funding through AmeriCorps, which is matched by the University of Rochester. Participants undergo leadership training, keep in contact with a member of the host organization where the service is performed, and receive regular advisement by faculty or staff at the College.

“The program benefits organizations and individuals in need in Rochester, but also provides a substantive learning experience for our students,” says Glenn Cerosaletti, director of Rochester Center for Community Leadership. “Students stand to gain a keener understanding of the Rochester community—both its needs and assets—and make lasting connections with particular individuals in the community. At the same time, I hope they will gain an understanding of project management and how to enact social change.”

Whalen’s host organization, the Sojourner House, provides shelter for roughly 16 women at a time and any children they may have. The women living in the house must complete assigned chores, attend life skills programs that help them find jobs, and sometimes undergo counseling and therapy for issues like drug and alcohol addiction. Women and their families usually stay around six months, which is preferred to secure living arrangements, although stays vary from one month to more than a year.

At the house, Whalen noticed that women usually pooled their food stamps and resources to prepare ‘comfort’ foods, which were often unhealthy. She has been working with the life skills coordinator at the house to plan healthy meals, make shopping lists, organize the kitchen so the women have better access to adequate cooking supplies, and provide advice on healthy portion sizes. She also suggests simple recipes with varied and interesting ingredients and tries to make them as healthy and nutritious as possible while staying within budget.

“The women go back to the same things that they grew up making, which is fine every once in awhile, but it’s about teaching them and their children how to live a healthier lifestyle,” Whalen explains.

Examples of healthy meals that Whalen helped plan include chicken pasta primavera, chicken stir fry, smoked pork chops with corn and okra, chicken asparagus crepes, turkey meatloaf, and chicken quesadillas.

Whalen especially appreciates her interactions with the children who live in the Sojourner House. In addition to biweekly visits to the house to help plan meals and improve overall nutrition, Whalen hosts a “study buddy” program on Tuesday nights, where she provides homework help to the kids who live there. The kids also participate in “Dream Seeds,” an arts enrichment program that has activities, including drumming and tap dancing. She says that talking and interacting with the children has given her a new perspective on Rochester outside of the microcosm of the River Campus.

“It’s eye-opening to interact with a different socioeconomic group. It helps me to understand Rochester more as a community,” Whalen explains. “There are two little girls that told me they aren’t allowed to play outside because there’s a criminal who lives on their street. Sojourner House is a place to go to feel safe and to do fun activities.”

A native of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Whalen pursued this opportunity after hearing about it through Alpha Phi Omega and was in charge of finding her own project and contacts. Whalen posts monthly reflections on Blackboard so that RCCL staff can monitor her progress and make sure she stays on track.  She remains focused on maintaining a nutrition program and committed to helping the residents of the Sojourner House in any way that she can.

This article is part one of a series that will feature the Meliora Leaders of 2012-2013. Undergraduates interested in participating in the program should look for information on the RCCL page in Spring 2013. Information about the program can be found on the RCCL page at http://rochester.edu/college/rccl/meliora.html.