When women are released from prison, they have a lot to learn—including how to manage their mental health, build strong relationships, and prioritize caring about themselves. When the students, alumni, and faculty of Walden University College of Nursing found out that these women could use guidance, they began working with former prisoners who live in a Washington, D.C. halfway house. The nurses are helping these women integrate back into the community through presentations they are giving via videoconference, known as “Coffee Talks.”

Sara Thimmes, RN-BSN, a Walden graduate and current MSN student and Lisa Trogdon, MSN, also a graduate of Walden, explain what the group is doing and why.

How did you initially become involved with the halfway house? Why did you begin this videoconferencing series?

Sara: We became involved with this project by meeting Dr. Avon Hart-Johnson at Walden’s commencement ceremony. Dr. Hart-Johnson, faculty in Walden’s PhD in Human and Social Services program, founded a nonprofit to ease the adverse impacts of incarceration on families and children. After commencement, we began talking about how Walden’s Sigma Phi Nu Chapter could help her through donation drives or other opportunities.

We came up with the idea of having a nurse speak at a series of videoconferences that connect experts with women at a local halfway house. In the video meetings, called Coffee Talks, nurses share health information to help the women learn to take care of themselves and their families. Our chapter also buys breakfast for the women. Our Coffee Talks have taken off from there—they have been amazing.

Lisa: When Sara presented this concept to Phi Nu’s board, I knew that I wanted to participate. I thought it sounded like an amazing opportunity to serve and educate those in great need, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are the topics that you’ve covered so far?

Sara: For our first talk, at the start of the pandemic, we spoke on COVID-19.

Lisa: We have also educated the women on dealing with hypertension, becoming your own health advocate, managing your breast health, and developing a sleep routine. Another topic we addressed was setting SMART goals, which are objectives that are smart, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. The participants selected most of the topics, and we chose others based on their potential needs. The speakers we chose were students from Walden’s College of Nursing and other volunteers from the Phi Nu chapter.

 What are you planning on covering in the future?

Sara: We give the participants a survey after each education session to list any health topics they would like to know more about.

Lisa: Future topics will include diabetes, stress management, and dealing with uncomfortable emotions. We’ll choose additional subjects based on our participants’ requests and needs. Diabetes is a common issue in our country. Factors such as socioeconomic status may put the members of our audience at the halfway house at a higher risk of diabetes. In these challenging times, we also want to help the women learn positive ways to manage their stress and process their uncomfortable emotions.

What do you hope women learn from this?

Sara: We hope the participants learn to be their own advocates for health. They should learn to build trusting relationships with their health care providers and plan preventive health visits along with sick visits. Our talks emphasize the importance of seeking reliable, trusted resources for health information on the internet. We really want to make sure they are using the internet to benefit their health rather than falling down the online rabbit hole of inaccurate information.

Lisa: We want to empower the participants and encourage them to trust their health care providers enough to have open, honest conversations.

How have the women in the halfway house benefitted from this?

Sara: The women express their gratitude in the surveys they fill out after each talk. Many participants speak up during the Coffee Talk sessions to share that they have learned something and will follow up with a health care provider for specific health questions.

How have the faculty, alumni, and students benefitted or learned from this project?

Sara: The faculty and students who have presented in Coffee Talk say they have benefitted from the experience. I provide feedback to the faculty members, including sharing any comments from the participants’ surveys. This series of talks is an informative way for nursing students to gain real-world experience and serves as a great tool to assess each nursing student’s ability to interact with and adapt to their audience. These are critical skills for practicing nurses.

Lisa: As alumni, we are inspired to implement Walden’s call for social change in our own communities, not just in Washington. Our experience with Walden as an online university prepared us well for today’s social distancing requirements, making us completely comfortable with the new normal of online presentations and interactions.

Why do you think it’s important for nursing students to get involved in the community?

Sara: As an MSN student, this has been an amazing opportunity for me to make a difference with a vulnerable population. It is so rewarding to engage with this group and provide them with informational health education and an hour of undivided attention. The Coffee Talks also give me insight into knowledge gaps in the community and get me thinking about how I can make a difference in my own nursing practice.

Anything else?

Sara: If you have the opportunity to make a difference in your community, absolutely take it! I also recommend that you join a nursing organization such as Sigma Theta Tau International, Honor Society of Nursing®, which provides many opportunities for volunteering, networking and overall growth. I would not have had this fantastic opportunity without Walden’s Sigma Theta Tau chartered chapter, Sigma Phi Nu.

Lisa: Being a member of the Phi Nu chapter reinforces all we were taught at Walden. Having the support of Phi Nu leadership and friends like Sara has opened the doors of opportunity for me to serve others.

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