Mesa Community College is now 50 years old. Ever since this college was founded, it has been known for service learning, and getting involved in the community. No group represents these values more than MCC’s Phi Theta Kappa Omicron Beta Chapter. Before the school year started, members of Honors in Action got together to choose their project for the upcoming semester. Choosing a topic and narrowing it down was the hardest part of the whole process.
Honors in Action first had to choose a general topic from the Honors Study Guide (Frontiers and the Spirit of Exploration). The group ended up deciding on topic no. seven: “Health and Medicine as Frontiers” after several research presentations and debates. Then the group had to narrow that general topic down to a specific cause. The group eventually picked Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
According to Christian Franco, the program specialist for the Center for Community & Civic Engagement, multiple things factored into their decision, including Robin Williams’ suicide in August of that year. “After listening to a Ted Talk on mental health, hearing of Robin Williams’ suicide, and reading an article in the Arizona Republic on how locally Arizona lost 226 Veterans due to mental health related issues ….” Franco said.
Students from Honors in Action also attended a Phoenix Town Hall Meeting for Veterans to speak out about the Veteran Affairs department’s lack of care, and that just motivated them even more. “There were many angry veterans and community members who voiced their opinions, concerns and objections about the lack of care they were receiving from the VA,” Honors in Action member Leigh Ann Counseller said. So the group started to do research, and they came up with some goals, and what kind of impact they wanted the project to have.
According to Sean West, the Vice President of the Southern and Dobson Chapter, and one of the leaders of this project, says making the community aware about this important issue was one of the main goals. “First and foremost, our project was to impact the community by making them aware of the mental disorder, called PTSD,” West said. Additionally, the project evolved into allowing the community to make those with PTSD aware of their support by participating in creating “Peace Quilts.”
The Peace Quilt squares were the first idea for this project, and they might have had the biggest impact. The group started to create squares with messages to veterans to show that everybody is thinking about them, and the idea was to create a quilt for one veteran suffering from PTSD. “The peace quilts came to be after wanting to make a statement across the community that we will stand together in supporting our veterans with PTSD and others who have been through traumatic experiences ….”
When the group talked to veterans, it helped the group realize that most veterans just want to know that someone cares, and it changed the way the group thought about PTSD. This was the inspiration that the group needed to work with Power Paws, a charitable group that provides highly-skilled assistance dogs to adults and children with disabilities.
After doing more research, Honors in Action found that a service animal can have a huge impact on veterans suffering from PTSD, and so they wanted to raise money to give a dog to a veteran. “When we started looking into the effects a service animal has on a person suffering from a traumatic event, we watched YouTube videos first. There are so many and for every scenario imaginable. Each result was the same; the care and comfort of the animal towards the victim resulted in a positive response such as a sigh, a deep breath, an affirmation that the victim as coming back, so to speak, from their dark place,” Counseller said.
In order to raise money to fund the cost of the dog, students involved in the project participated in the Night Envy Neon Run, which raised over $500 for veteran scholarship funds. “PTSD affects so many people such as human-trafficking survivors, cancer survivors, children of abused parents, people with severe anxiety or even a mental illness such as Asperger’s or autism,” Counseller said.
One of the major events that the group participated in to spread awareness about PTSD was the NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) walk. Counseller talked about the impact of this event: “The NAMI walk was amazing! 300 plus people walking, running, and participating to bring awareness…” Counseller said. “It was remarkable to be a part of the success we had with our booth. Our booth was set up so that everyone who passed us could stop and draw on or write on a quilt square. People who stopped, and their children too, were moved at the purpose of our booth. The feedback we got from the participants was overwhelming, supportive and positive! We collected nearly 300 quilt squares. At the same time we were able to educate at least 1,000 participants about PTSD.”
Next, the group decided to plant a healing tree on both the Southern and Dobson campus, and the Red Mountain campus. The overall goal of this event was to make students and faculty more aware of PTSD, and it was a great success. “Planting a healing tree on the Mesa Community College Campus allowed us to leave an impact on the campus and in honor of our veterans and those with PTSD that there is hope and healing available to them,” West said. This was another way for them to make an impact in the community, and spread awareness. Students also participated in Human Trafficking Awarness Day on MCC’s campus, and the Health Fair at C.A.R.E Partnership.
This project is still ongoing and will continue to have a huge impact. This project has enabled more people to understand what veterans and others that suffer from this disease go through everyday. That is what this project set out to do, and that is what this project has accomplished. Phi Theta Kappa is comfortable facing large issues. They’re having an impact on campus, and in the community.
Editor’s note: The reporter works as a campus events officer for Phi Theta Kappa.