UNK social work students learn skills while working with residents of Kearney Manor

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KEARNEY, Neb. (Press release) – Empathy. Communication. Active listening. Critical mind. Patience.

These essential skills and traits for social workers cannot be learned from a textbook. They are developed through real-world interactions.

“Social work is a profession where you work directly with people. We can talk about it all day, but I strongly believe that until we’ve experienced it, we don’t know what it’s like,” said Nadine Stuehm, a senior lecturer at the University of Nebraska in the Department of Kearney social work.

Students in Stuehm’s Aging Services class had that opportunity this semester when they stepped out of the classroom to work and learn from residents of Kearney Manor, a public housing community that serves seniors and people with disabilities. .

Over the past two months, UNK students have met one-on-one with residents to better understand the older population and learn the skills they will use every day as social work professionals.

“In the profession of social work, you have to learn how to communicate and meet people from different age groups,” said sophomore Esther Uma, one of nine students in the class. “I think there are a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to the older population. There are a lot of things I didn’t know before taking this course.

The weekly conversations covered a number of topics, including physical and mental health, religion and spirituality, social activities and support systems, finances, relationships with friends and family, and retirement plans. life. They are part of a psychosocial assessment that each student has performed on a resident.

“It’s not hard to ask someone about their family, but it’s hard to say, ‘What are your end-of-life plans?’ Stuehm noted. “It’s a very difficult question. If you are going to work with older people, this is a question you need to ask them.

Uma, a social work major with a minor in international studies, was paired up with Martha Tiede, who has lived at Kearney Manor since 2001. Their ages and backgrounds are starkly different.

Tiede grew up in the Overton area and never attended college. She’s worked “a lot of different places,” including Washington, DC, and currently enjoys reading and knitting. The 88-year-old makes woolen caps for local schoolchildren and donates prayer squares and shawls to her church.

“Being able to meet someone who’s been through so much more than you and has that knowledge and that experience really helps,” said Uma, 18. “There are a lot of things I learned from her that I will take with me and think about as I move on to my profession.

The relationship was mutually beneficial.

“It’s very interesting to hear about some of the things she does,” Tiede said of Uma, who lived in southern Nigeria until she was 10 and graduated from Boone Central High School in Nebraska. “It’s a different experience for me to have her come in once a week to talk.”

For residents of Kearney Manor, the program is an opportunity to give back while interacting with people outside their usual social circles.

“They really like having students come to visit,” said Services Coordinator Misty Hasselquist. “Many of the people who participated this year have already done so. They liked it so much that they wanted to do it again. »

The program allows UNK students to “put the course material into action”.

“It’s really about experiential learning,” said Stuehm, who started the project several years ago and moved it to Kearney Manor in 2021.

When not meeting with residents, UNK students gather in the classroom to discuss their experiences.

“I think they all come away with a very different sense of how to work with older people,” Stuehm said.

One of the hardest lessons came this week, when the program ended with bingo night. On their last day together, the students learned to disconnect and say goodbye.

“It was something I had to think about how to approach,” Uma said. “It was really hard. It’s really hard to get to know someone and then you have to cut it.

“If I see her in a store somewhere, she’s definitely going to get a big hug,” Tiede added with a smile.

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