On Valentine’s Day weekend, Villanova Nursing’s Team Latina crafted a unique “Love Yourself First” event for women experiencing homelessness in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. The group planned crafts and other activities for those gathering at the Community Center at Visitation which provides a safe place for education, recreation and community outreach for the diverse cultural groups in the nearby neighborhoods.
Team Latina is a group of students and alumni stemming from a research group begun by Assistant Professor Linda Maldonado, PhD, RN related to her science surrounding health disparities and maternal child outcomes in pregnant Puerto Rican women.
This was the second annual event, with the inaugural one led by nursing students Dulce Cervantes and Liana Perez.
This year, there were seven students included three from nursing, three Villanova pre-med/biology major students and one friend of a nursing student who is a graphic arts major at Community College of Philadelphia. Villanovans, Professor Hezekiah Lewis and alumnus Caleb Lucky, documentarians, also attended. They are working with Team Latina to create a documentary highlighting the women in Kensington whom the team has met at Thea Bowman Center - a women’s center in Kensington run by the Medical Mission Sisters with which Team Latina also works providing services to families in the area - as well as the Team Latina students themselves who are dedicating their Saturdays to working with these women.
The women attending the event were a diverse group of Hispanic, Black, and White women of all ages. A few of the women are currently living in shelters and arrived together. These are specific shelters for women who are escaping violent partnerships.
Dr. Maldonado’s research assistants, Emmanuel “Manny” Morris and Ariana Tramonti-Bonet are both accelerated second degree BSN students and planned and led the day. Manny, who hails from a family of nurses and earned a comprehensive science degree from Villanova, wants to help people achieve wellness and “close the health inequity gap for minorities, especially the Black community which often experiences the worst outcomes.” He hopes to “provide people with knowledge on how to take care of themselves and how to access the services they need to do so.” Ariana is pursuing nursing because she felt that it is the most interesting career to learn and grow in while serving others. “I'm hoping to go into pediatric or women's health nursing when I graduate. I wanted to be involved with Team Latina's service-based research so that I could connect to a local community of women of color and find a way to bring something positive to them,” she says.
The event began and closed with a meal, and the women enjoyed an art session provide by one of the sisters from nearby Thea Bowman Center.
Manny and Ariana decided to construct the activities for the day based on wellness and to complement idea of loving self first. Guests were seated in a safe, socially distant way and received bags of treats.
They started with some gentle chair yoga led by the students which the women appreciated and then shifted to the discussion which focused on giving oneself credit, gratitude, and community. Their plan for the event was based on outcomes from Dr. Maldonado’s studies.
Manny notes, “Our intervention for the day was a discussion on the importance of loving yourself and how you can show yourself kindness everyday....our end goal was to give the women an opportunity to talk to each other, build off each other, and reassure them that they are not alone and that they have shared experiences despite their differences. So, really just pushing the idea of community...and how feeling supported improves overall outcomes, which is part of Dr. Maldonado’s initial research.” He made sure to thank the woman for allowing him to be present, especially because some had been victims of intimate partner violence. “It was just really humbling to hear what the women had to share about their experiences and just how they continue to press on despite their circumstances.”
Ariana describes the day as being “filled with really positive interactions and helped us learn a bit more about the women in the Kensington community. Some things that we learned were sad or difficult, but overall helped us gain a better understanding of what this community of women go through. Going forward with our service at Thea Bowman, I think we will continue to implement this focus group style of meeting.
One of the participants said, "I look forward to these events for us to be together. I get to socialize and take part in different activities with other ladies and the students from Villanova," reported Dr. Maldonado.
Ariana, who holds a degree in neuroscience from Smith College, explains, “I felt as though we opened up a space for some really insightful conversations on self-esteem, self-love and finding ways to be proud of yourself no matter where you are in life.”