The Ross Medical students are always eager to donate to a good cause. Throughout the month of January, the students and staff at the Johnson City campus hosted a drive where they collected hygiene products for the Johnson City Downtown Day Center, a local homeless shelter. Some of the items that were collected included soap, sanitary napkins, hair brushes, toothbrushes, dry shampoo, cleansing wipes, deodorant, and toothpaste.
This campus event was a really good learning experience for the students. When going to drop off the items at the Johnson City Downtown Day Center on February 3, 2020, the students also took a tour of the facility. Toria Gilewala, the lead Case Manager at the shelter, further educated the students on homelessness and the services they provide at the shelter.
The nonprofit agency is unique in the fact that it provides a holistic approach to address the mental, physical, and social needs of those who suffer from homelessness, as well as the population that may be underinsured. Being that it is a day center, individuals cannot spend the night, but when they do come in, they have a wide variety of services available to utilize. They can do their laundry, take a shower, get assistance for any medical or mental health problem, and receive help with any paperwork, such as filing for disability claims.
When talking to Toria, you can instantly tell that she is extremely passionate about the work that she does. She started out as an intern back in 2011 and years later, she found her way back to the place and is now the lead Case Manager, as well as the front desk receptionist. To her, the work that she does is more than just a job. She stated, “I’ve always had an interest in helping people and I believe many of us can be that one person or that one family member that is one paycheck away from being in this situation. It’s possible to be faced with an unfortunate situation where we lose our home or we are faced with a medical problem and we are not financially secure enough to be able to afford the costs.”
Even though she can’t help everyone to the extent that she would like to, Toria is still really grateful that she can at least help individuals get connected to different sources. “I am not able to get everybody who walks through our doors into low income housing, but I’ve learned to expand and think outside of the box,” said Toria.
Toria has a significant amount of empathy for all of the people that she helps and she tries to treat them in the most holistic way possible. She knows everyone has a story. All of the individuals who walk through those doors have some type of unfortunate situation or trauma. The majority of them experienced something that went unaddressed and that has led them to the situation they are in right now. “That opened my eyes in a sense. It made me want to strive to put forth extra effort in trying to get these individuals stabilized and connected to the resources to help address their issues. Addressing their three needs – mental, social, and physical – is an importance to me,” stated Toria.
Ross staff members were excited to tour the facility and learn more about the mission of the shelter. Pharmacy instructor Laura Cyphers was the one who helped put this drive and field trip together. She stated, “I had past attachments to it and it really kinda opened my eyes the first time that I was ever there about what homeless people go through. While we were taking the tour, we were told that one of the services they provide to individuals is mailboxes that they can use. That’s something I never thought about prior to this tour.”
Toria’s outlook on life reminds us all that we have the power to make a difference every single day. She stated, “ I had what I perceive as a Mother Theresa outlook; I wanted to save the world. Over time, I’ve realized that you can’t save the world, but the smallest things can make a world of a difference in someone’s life. That, to me, is extremely fulfilling.”
More information on the Johnson City Downtown Day Center can be found at www.etsu.edu/nursing/clinics/community/downtown.php.