Students help the homeless |

Students help the homeless

Karl Horeis

Marty Yarbrough sat bathed in sunlight while a barber prepared to cut his hair Thursday at FISH on East Long Street. He had come for the homeless outreach and health check offered by nursing students from the University of Nevada, Reno.

“How short do you want it, 2 1/2? Three?,” asked the barber, Joel Armas.

“Brother, take it down to a 1. Just peel it,” Yarbrough answered through missing front teeth.

Yarbrough was one of more than a hundred people who stopped in Thursday to get their blood pressure checked and collect a bag of hygiene products and holiday groceries.

He’s hitchhiking to Visalia, Calif., from Winnemucca.

“I’m trying to make it home before Thanksgiving,” he said.

The outreach was offered by 10 Orvis School of Nursing students enrolled in the practice portion of the class Human Care Nursing in the Community.

“They’re learning how to meet community needs,” said their instructor, Nancy Polatty, assistant professor at Orvis. “They’re learning what community nursing is all about.”

Students saw the effect of their work directly.

“We had this one guy come in who was a diabetic,” said student nurse Vania Carter. “We were able to find him some Lancets he could use to check his blood. He was so appreciative.”

“I had a woman this morning who was crying because we gave her some deodorant,” said student Cristin Petrosky.

Cedric Nelson, a retired man in a worn, blue cap, was glad to get some groceries.

“They gave me a sack of goodies and I got some egg nog to make French toast,” he said. Silver chest hair extended from his black Oakland Raiders jacket and he supported himself with a cane as he headed to his nearby apartment.

The students attend class Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in Reno and do the clinical portion on Thursdays and Fridays at the FISH administrative offices near the Ross Medical Clinic, food bank and thrift store.

Each semester the students head out in pairs with questionnaires to figure out what the community could use.

“Then we all come back as a group and decide what the need is,” said student Stacy Marshall.

In the past, classes have done a dental fair at the Boys & Girls Club, a men’s health fair, nutrition and car seat education and a Spanish-language helper for pharmacists.

“This is a wonderful group of students,” said Polatty. “When they decide to do something it gets done and it gets done well. They have hearts the size of Nevada and I’m very proud of them.”

The students do it all: Assess the community need, select a project, organize donations, set the date, find a location, and hold the event.

“I basically just had to get out of the way or I’d be trampled,” said Polatty. “I’m here to guide, advise and supervise but it’s their show.”

Also in attendance was Joseph Canyon, commander of the American Legion High Desert Post 56. The nursing students had originally planned to perform their health check at an American Legion event in December but had to cancel because their semester is wrapping up at that time. The event, called a standdown, will go on as planned Dec. 5 at the Carson City Community Center. It’s a chance for homeless veterans to eat, get hygiene products and have their health checked.

As for the nursing students, they’re checking height, weight, vision and hearing today at the Washoe Tribal Head Start programs in Carson City and Gardnerville. All seniors, they’ll graduate in May.