“It’s hard to learn about community from your desk,” Kara Riggleman, adjunct social work professor, said.
Chilly, but warmed by sunny skies, seniors in Process and Practice III — a macro-level course required for social work majors, also dubbed the “communities class” by its participants — prepared to welcome and encourage residents in Hartford City for their Run, Walk n’ Roll 3K event.
In this class, seniors design an event to engage a community in need. For the past four years, students have done so by raising mental health awareness. Fellow Hartford City residents gathered at Weiler Plaza on Nov. 4 to participate in what had taken Taylor students nearly two months to organize.
Complete with food and music, the Run, Walk n’ Roll 3K served to help chip away any stigma regarding mental health in the local area.
“There definitely is a lot more (mental health struggles and resources available) in Hartford than (is) seen or known about,” senior Elisabeth Kennedy, a social work major who was a part of the event planning group, said.
In 2020, Dr. Jennifer Clamme (’97), a Taylor alumna who died this past June, had reached out to the university’s social work program. Overwhelmed by the patients coming through her doors, Clamme recognized that a vast amount of them were exhibiting symptoms related to mental health struggles.
“Of course, there were kind of valid physical things going on (with Clamme’s patients), but we know that sometimes our mental states can have a physical manifestation in our bodies,” Riggleman said.
The Process and Practice III class at the time surveyed the community’s needs and identified gaps where certain services might be needed.
The results showed that people felt that there was a lack of resources for mental health needs and also reflected people feeling a strong stigma in actually using those resources.
“It seemed to us (that) perhaps people felt more comfortable going to a medical doctor than a mental health practitioner,” Riggleman said.
The following year, the Process and Practice III class partnered with 4-H, a youth development organization, to plan a trunk-or-treat event and continued to encourage Hartford City residents to seek any needed mental health assistance. The event’s main purpose was to aid the general population of Hartford to see such an action in a more positive light.
Now, during the Summer before each fall semester, Riggleman pre-evaluates the needs, direction and interests of Hartford City.
“One of my sort of underlying goals is to help students realize that there really are underserved communities right in our backyard,” she said. “If you look at all of the data about Grant County, Blackford County and Hartford City, specifically, they've been federally designated as an underserved community.”
Convicted to serve Hartford City, the class has continued to provide mental health awareness events each year, generating recognition and breaking stigma through forming relationships with the community.
Last year, students hosted an “Inside Out” movie night to spark further discussion, and this year, the Run, Walk n’ Roll 3K event.
“We decided to go with the 3K to get people out and moving because that's good for mental health,” senior Jacob Johns, a social work major who was also a part of the event planning group, said. “Then, at the end of it, we're going to connect people to resources in the community.”
This year, students partnered with eight practitioners in the area including Firefly, Grant Blackford Mental Health and Reliant Resources. The goal was to show that despite the rural location of Hartford City, there are resources available.
Instead of a 5K, students had opted to plan for a 3K — the longer distance wasn’t possible for everyone to participate in, so to increase inclusion, event planners decreased the distance and dubbed the event a “run, walk and roll” one to accommodate those who were less able.
Johns reached out to law enforcement to barricade a route for the event — one of many different details students had to pay attention to when preparing for the day.
Students began with approximately $300 to help fund their project — an amount gathered from the $25 course fee that the students paid. Despite that amount, which was used to market the event, fundraising was still a major part of their planning process.
Students have a designated group to manage fundraising. Cold calling, persistent emails and personal visits were methods they used to reach out to local businesses for contributions toward the 3K.
Riggleman said that despite the small budget, her class has been able to fund their event thanks to the Lord’s provision.
“It's been a lot of communication and physically being there in the community which is kind of our goal — to engage the community,” Johns said.
Projects like this one in the social work major help students to become involved in a more immersive course where students learn through connected action.
“It's not about how many people show up,” Johns said. “It's about what the people who show up take away from it.”