Over May 4th to May 11th, I attended a Buck-I-SERV trip to One Heartland in Minnesota for my STEP Signature Project. This project fulfilled the Service Learning and Community Service category. While on this trip, I helped prepare One Heartland for its summer campers by cutting firewood, organizing cabin linens, making crafts, and other tasks. Over the course of the week, I also was able to learn about the different communities, such as the HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ+ populations, which the One Heartland summer camp serves.
Throughout my week at One Heartland, I cherished most the time that the camp organizers spent educating us on the reality and challenges experienced by children living with/affected by HIV/AIDS, belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, seeking to live a healthier lifestyle, and living in unstable housing. These four groups of children constitute the populations which One Heartland serves. Learning about these communities altered my understanding of our society and what it means to be human. Making an effort to educate myself on the current facts concerning these groups helped me grasp how prejudice, misinformation, and fear function to hold back people belonging to these stigmatized populations. Now that I have attended college for three years, I realize just how sheltered I was while growing up. My neighborhood and private schools were all very white, Catholic, and upper middle class. Most of the people I interacted with were similar to me. Very little of the people I regularly encountered belonged to the HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ+, poor health, and unstable housing communities which One Heartland serves. Therefore, my time at One Heartland was invaluable because it helped to expose me to the diversity within our society.
Most importantly, One Heartland has also opened my eyes to the discrimination, stigma, and hardships that many people experience daily within the United States. So often citizens of the United States turn a blind eye to the suffering within their own borders. We like to pretend that such suffering could not exist in our country, a land where all have the ”freedom to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This insensitive mentality is dangerous though. It leads to apathy and inaction regarding assisting our fellow neighbors. Thus, the lessons I learned at One Heartland have convinced me that we each have an innate responsibility to educate ourselves on the diversity and suffering which exists around us. As the old adage goes, “‘Knowledge is power.” With the understanding of the hardships faced by our neighbors, we are enabled to uplift them in their hour of struggle.
Though my time at One Heartland only lasted a week, there were several events that fostered a change in my worldview. One example that stands out is how my understanding of those impacted by HIV/AIDS was challenged. While touring one of the camp’s buildings, my gaze rested on one child’s artwork. A 12-year-old wrote, “Hiv [sic] and my friends just don’t get along. I don’t know why but I’m going to cry. I have no friends. You know why? I have Hiv [sic] and people laugh at me and call me names.” Reading this poem elicited a sudden grim, icy feeling of awareness. No person, especially a child, should have to endure such cruelty. Later, our Buck-I-SERV group watched The Normal Heart, a film about the beginning of the AIDS crisis in New York City. Together, the poem and the film unveiled just how cold and heartless our society can be toward those suffering with HIV/AIDS, particularly during the 1980s. I had never truly comprehended just how pervasive the stigma against HIV/AIDS initially was. In this way, my time at One Heartland unveiled how people can react so harshly against others out of ignorance and fear. With what I learned about the HIV/AIDS epidemic on this trip combined with my knowledge of the HIV virus, I see how our society needs to destigmatize HIV/AIDS and teach everyone about the disease process. By continuing education about HIV/AIDS, we may help prevent harmful stigmas and promote healthy practices.
While I learned so much about HIV/AIDS, I also learned a great deal about the LGBTQ+ children which attend One Heartland. Camp True Colors, One Heartland’s camp sessions reserved for kids in the LGBTQ+ community, has exploded in recent years. A large portion of these campers belong to the trans community. The camp coordinators informed us that most of these LGBTQ+ kids live online, meaning that they express themselves and cultivate relationships via the internet and social media. Both of these facts demonstrate just how large a need there is for LGBTQ+ kids to have safe places where they can form in-person relationships and know that they are accepted. All too often these kids are ostracized and made to feel defective and alone. Therefore, these kids may never be allowed to be their true selves until they are in an environment with others like them. This knowledge reinforces just how important the work that One Heartland performs is for these children.
Lastly, I discovered a great deal about Camp Northstar, One Heartland’s camp session for kids facing housing instability. One of the camp coordinators told me that often children coming to this camp session arrive only with the clothes on their backs. This piece of information struck me. It is astonishing how unfair it is that these children should have to struggle to find shoes that fit while I have a hard time fitting my excessive amounts of clothes into my closet. Acknowledging this injustice, I am reminded of the gross wealth disparity which exists among Americans. We need to do better. We owe it to these children to create a society where they do not have to worry about where they should sleep at night or what they should eat in the morning. Instead, we must seek to care for our neighbors simply because it is the right thing to do. Perhaps if we become more empathetic and aware of the plight of the impoverished within our cities, then we can create a more harmonious and loving society that fosters the well-being of all people.
The personal transformation which I sustained while at One Heartland is integral for my future success as a nurse. Nurses treat a diverse patient population every day. It is their duty to be educated on the hardships of the communities which they serve. Thus, my knowledge about the four communities which One Heartland serves will empower me in my future nursing career so that I may better relate to and treat my patients belonging to such communities.
Additionally, my comprehension of the hardships and prejudice endured by members of these four communities will enable me to be a better patient advocate. As a nurse, I am obligated to protect my patients’ rights and ensure them the best possible care. In this way, if I observe policies or behavior which discriminates against a certain group of patients, I can advocate for change so that these patients will feel respected and comfortable while receiving care in the future.