Nurses Meeting Community Needs CNAF Coordinator Sally Poliwoda, BSN, RN (far left), leads young residents of a homeless shelter in exercise as part of a wellness program.

Beth Henry, BSN, CPN, has spent 28 years as a CHOP nurse, caring for patients in the pediatric intensive care, perianesthesia and radiation oncology units. She’s an experienced, knowledgeable clinician, but because of her time in the Community Nursing Advocacy Fellowship (CNAF), she has a new perspective on how families’ home situations impact their children’s health.

Thanks to the generosity of the 1675 Foundation and its president, Carol Elizabeth Ware, every year 10 CHOP nurses are selected to step out of their day-to-day roles and spend 12 hours a month working as CNAF fellows in West Philadelphia and beyond. The program, now in its 10th year, begins with group visits to local nonprofits, shelters, schools and family court. Then each nurse draws on that experience to develop and carry out a project benefiting the community.

Nurses who spend their careers caring for seriously ill children in the Hospital often welcome the opportunity to help healthy kids stay that way. Educating families about wellness issues — nutrition, exercise, safety — are frequent themes for CNAF projects. The fellows are active in hands-on ways, and venues have ranged from homeless shelters to elementary schools to a neighborhood bike shop. Fellows have trained parents in CPR, served as mentors to the Future Nurses Club at local high schools and taught teens how to stay safe while having fun on prom night.

One recent fellow handled the research component of a new martial arts program at a West Philadelphia homeless shelter; two others headed up the Road to Safety project, teaching approximately 500 children in 15 West Philadelphia summer camps about bike, water, sun, pedestrian, playground and helmet safety — plus educating nearly 1,000 camp staff on first aid. Several projects have proven so popular that they became ongoing programs.

“It requires more creativity and flexibility to treat patients outside the walls of CHOP,” says Sally Poliwoda, BSN, RN, who has been CNAF coordinator the past seven years. “The rewards are different, too. Our fellows make a real contribution to the health and wellness of those they help and in turn bring a new sense of empathy to their Hospital roles.”

“Every experience was an adventure,” says Henry, whose CNAF project promoted exercise among mothers and their children at a West Philadelphia shelter. “It taught me to think about families and their circumstances in a whole new way. It helped me be a better nurse.”

— Zan Hale