MEPNs work with immigrants at Welcoming Center

This post is written by guest writer and 2nd year MEPN, Melissa Dempsey


(Daniel Smith and Dr. Jodi O’ Brien working on arts and crafts with a group of CMC kids.)

“Look them in the eyes, ask them to tell you their story,” Pastor William Jenkins told us during our first visit to Christ Ministry Center (CMC).

Located in Normal Heights, San Diego, CMC is the only immigrant welcoming center in all of Southern California. It is a Safe Harbor Site, and part of a network that provides temporary emergency shelter for refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers, most of whom are pregnant women or families with young children. Last year alone, over 6,000 human beings, from almost every corner of the world, were welcomed through the doors of CMC. Pastor Jenkins, who works directly with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said that “ICE will call me at all hours of the day or night to ask if I’ll take somebody in…no matter what, the answer is always yes.”

USD’s partnership with CMC began soon after our initial meeting with Pastor Jenkins over the summer. Our group was moved by the profound need at CMC, so much so that we advocated to have the site approved for our fall Community Health rotation. Many of the residents at CMC have traveled for weeks (or even months), and arrived in the United States with only the clothes on their back. Initially, we felt the primary need was OB/pediatric care. Our plan of action evolved, however, after our first few weeks at CMC. California State San Marcos Nursing School has run a free clinic at the site for two years, so we’ve worked out a referral system. We realized mental health screenings and a general orientation to the United States were more urgent necessities our group could help fulfill.

The first project we worked on was creating an orientation tool for newcomers, a letter that details where residents can get basic needs (like food and clothing). Since most of the residents don’t speak English, we’ve worked with the Language Department at USD to have the letter translated into other languages (French, Spanish, and Russian so far).

One of the first lines of the tool we created reads “you are safe here”. We felt this was paramount to include. Refugees and asylum seekers have come to the United States because they fear death or persecution in their native countries. There is a common thread of unresolved and unaddressed trauma woven into each resident’s past life, and it is our hope that we can shed some light in the darkness.

Their stories are powerful, poignant, and inspirational. As Lihini Keenawinna, a second year MEPN student, says “I keep coming back to this idea that they went through such immense traumas, but are incredibly resilient in their desire to have a better life. It’s the most fulfilling feeling to be able to help, even in the tiniest of ways.”

A main aspect of our time at CMC has been offering activities for both children and adults, with the goal of providing a sense of community during a lonely time. One of the residents told us that she used to make pupusas at home in El Salvador, so we brought the ingredients and made them with her during one of our clinical days. It was clear that giving her the opportunity to teach us how to cook something from her native country brought her joy and a small piece of home. Graham Wolfe, another second year MEPN student, coaches the USD rugby team. Our group took some of the CMC residents to a game, a very much welcomed outing. While these actions may seem insignificant (and completely unrelated to nursing), we’ve come to find that the care of populations on a holistic level is vital to overall well-being.

As Natalie Marsh, a second year MEPN emphasizes, “Serving the residents at CMC has been one of the most rewarding experiences of the program thus far. It has taught us so much about aspects of nursing school that you can’t learn in a classroom, including cultural sensitivity, how to encounter those going through trauma, person-centered care, and being ready to help—even with unexpected needs.”

It is an honor and a privilege to work with Pastor Jenkins and the residents of CMC. Each clinical day we’re met with smiles, open arms, and an unbelievable spirit of resilience.

Natalie Marsh at Christ Ministry

(Natalie Marsh showing a CMC resident her stethoscope)

About kathymarsh

Associate Dean at Hahn School of Nursing University of San Diego
This entry was posted in Class of 2019, community involvement, Hahn School of Nursing, Health Care Advocate, University of San Diego and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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