In 2010, two nursing professors held focus groups in poorer Grand Rapids neighborhoods. Those professors, Mary Doornbos and Gail Zandee, saw a way they could create change. They could help women deal with anxiety and depression.
They formed a research team. Together, they made a study called Women Supporting Women that began the following year. Its goal was to see if six supportive/educative groups increased self-care knowledge and decreased symptoms over four months.
Women Supporting Women started in three different neighborhoods. Senior nursing students delivered the educational content during their nursing 379 course. They taught the women how to identify, treat, and deal with anxiety and depression.
“I am passionate about supporting women’s health related to women in poverty,” shared nursing student and research assistant Erica Heetderks.
She’s seen the women become inspired. And she feels that the coping mechanisms they learn free them to live better lives.
After five years, the program was deemed a success. The women reported that they knew more about anxiety and depression and had fewer symptoms.
So, the program was extended for another five years. And the program leaders wanted to use Calvin resources to improve it. The art and nursing departments started a partnership.
Now, art faculty and students lead participating women in a bookmaking project. Each woman's book links to educational content while also recording their unique mental health journey. The research team also mails hand painted cards filled with messages that encourage the women’s participation.
Additionally, they now have a “graduation day.” The women invite friends, present their art, receive certificates, and celebrate.
“I’m grateful that the Calvin administration had a vision for this four years ago," Prof. Zandee remarked. “There’s been a lot of incredible research and more connections made—both within Calvin and outside Calvin.”
Prof. Zandee also explained that the team has ideas for the program's next steps. They're looking forward to continuing relationships with each other and the community.