In January 2021, Community College of Philadelphia’s Nursing program was recognized with the Innovations in Social Mobility: Workforce Development award powered by the Social Innovations Journal for its work to provide health care in the community. Laureen Tavolaro-Ryley, associate professor of Nursing and the Independence Foundation chair in Community Nursing at the College, accepted the award.
Days after COVID-19 shut down Philadelphia in March 2020, many higher education nursing programs and medical institutions sent students home and transitioned to virtual learning, but Tavolaro-Ryley went another route. She began advocating to get funding for a summer internship for students that would provide care to the homeless, food insecure and other susceptible groups making up some of the most vulnerable communities in Philadelphia.
“We knew how to engage in the community and a had a trusting funder [in the Independence Foundation],” Tavolaro-Ryley said. “It’s all about relationships and credibility in the community. Our students are from the community and they go back into those communities to work. They are good ambassadors.”
Tavolaro-Ryley was able to secure funding and supplies, and the Independence Foundation funded 12 nursing interns, including past and current CCP students. They moved to the front lines during a critical time of need for the city. Through the program, the interns worked to educate, screen and test more than 5,000 people in Philadelphia for COVID-19. The group also partnered with Philly FIGHT, Project Home, Broad Street Ministry and the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, and additional funding allows this work to continue.
Though they were making a difference each day, Tavolaro-Ryley said she and the interns did not realize the extent of their impact until they looked back on the year. “I was honored the internship was recognized and was among the [award] winners considering how difficult the summer was for everyone,” said Tavolaro-Ryley. “It was a labor of love.”
While unfortunately Nursing students were not able to complete their clinicals in-person due to COVID-19 (instead they were completed virtually), Tavolaro-Ryley feels the internship provided students an important opportunity to serve the needs of their own neighborhoods. Later, when in-person learning resumes, students will be able to apply the learned skills to clinical experiences.
She also believes the namesake of the internship, Dr. Andrea Mengel, would be proud of the interns’ work.
“Dr. Mengel would have loved it! She loved helping vulnerable populations. I think she would have been very happy,” Tavolaro-Ryley said