An inside look at a city-wide ‘Back to School Health Fair’ in the making

Sharlene Scheler, RN
Wesley Nurse, First United Methodist Church
Smithville, Texas

When the Wesley Nurse Health Ministries™ team was tasked with the goal of enhancing programs and partnerships through collaboration with their respective health committee and community agencies, I set a personal goal of completing two projects before the end of the year. 

With only four months left in 2013, I had my work cut out for me!

The first project, a Diaper Drive, was an instant success with 4,123 diapers collected for the Food Pantry and My Baby & Me.

Coming off of that massive achievement, we were excited to start planning the second major collaborative project: a Back-to-School Bash to collect school supplies and clothes.

To get started, the health committee and I visited with the principal of Brown Primary School in Smithville, Texas. We were surprised to learn that the demand for school supplies in the area was low; many local agencies donated school supplies at the beginning of each school year. We were even more surprised to learn of the strong need for health services for families in the community – especially around back-to-school time. Shifting gears in the direction of health care, we visited a local pediatrician, Dr. Spears to get his input and his reaction was validating. His response was, “I have been here seven years and this has never been done. Count me in!”

I also met with two area dentists. Their response to the proposal matched Dr. Spears’s, “Let’s do it!”

After receiving so much support from Smithville practitioners, I visited with a number of community agencies, groups and businesses to include: the Student Health Advisory Committee; school nurse; the police department; the Sheriff’s office; Speak Freely (a local speech therapist and audiologist); St. Mark’s Clinic; Tejas Clinic; Smithville Safe Route to School; DSHS; and countless others.

Now that the key players were aligned and interest was drawn, the school principal and his team suggested the fair be scheduled in coordination with school registration, with a focus on pre-k through second grade.

After advertising the fair in the local paper, passing out flyers and speaking at local functions, we had a flood of calls from community members wanting to volunteer or hold some role in this inaugural event.

Dr. Spears educated attendees on the harms of soft drinks, dentists handed out free toothpaste and toothbrushes and conducted brief dental exams, and vision tests were provided by a nurse clinician – one child was identified to have a severe vision problem, which alone made the event worth it.

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The Sheriff’s office provided parents with electronic finger prints and educational DVD’s. The Police department gave out coloring books and safety resources.

Great Clips gave 35 haircuts. School nurses administered required immunizations and Wesley Nurses provided education on medication safety.

The First United Methodist Church of Smithville brought their popcorn machine and two congregation members dressed as clowns and made balloon art. Blue Bell Ice Cream donated ice cream and MHM provided Frisbees.

The fair ran from 1:00 to 5:00pm. In the end, over 100 residents showed up. All resources, goods and services – donated au gratis – were free to attendees. The only item that had to be purchased was bags for the fair which Wesley Nurse Health Ministries™ gladly secured.  

I must admit, when I set my goal of hosting two community event before December 2013 I thought I may have been too ambitious. I wondered how everything would come together, and if the end result would translate into a success. I am happy to report a resounding response to the two events recently held in Smithville. I look forward to bigger and better community-wide events next year!