Senior Social Work project shows M.E.R.C.Y.

Kristian Biega, Staff writer

This year, students from the Mercyhurst Social Work department are hosting a Wellness Day for the Community in Perry Square on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.

The Social Work department works to make a difference in the lives of others and creating awareness for the needs in the community. Theiatmission is evident during each year’s Senior Social Work Class Project.

Each year, the Social Work Practice III class must design, plan and implement its own project that ultimately will leave a positive impact on the community. The class is given a theme to work with. This year’s was youth violence due to the widespread general violence in Erie.

“Our philosophy is that this project is really student led and the department takes a backseat role,” said MandyFauble, Ph.D. “It allows them to find their own voice.”

Nicole Caranci, Colin O’Connor, Bridget Ellert, Rachel Ficcaglia, Vivian McCullum, Jade McKay, Natalie Piaggesi, Justyn Roda, Emily Shanahan and Deandra Ward made up the collaborative team of senior social work majors that are planning Saturday’s event.

They worked together to come up with several ideas on the causes of youth violence and decided to focus on the wellness aspect of the issue and the various ways to cope with it. From this idea, they formed the mission of “M.E.R.C.Y.” which stands for “Movement to Empower, Restore and Cultivate the Youth.”

“Instead of focusing on the negative aspect of youth violence, we focused on how we can make the youth of our community healthier,” said Shanahan.

The movement seeks to involve as much of the community as possible for a day of education and awareness, food, fun, music and fellowship. The team incorporated an aspect of advocacy through their information booths and charismatic speakers and performers.

“This is not a lecture setup,” said Carani. “We want to bring people together to entertain them but also educate them at the same time. People can hang out, eat and be with friends.”

The day will include speeches from Amy Blackman, of the Crime Victim Center of Erie County, on overall wellness and services at the center; Curtis Jones, associate minister at Abundant Life Ministries, on youth violence and spirituality; and potentially a talk from Michael Outlaw on the current situation of Erie’s inner-city youth.

Entertainment for the Wellness Day will feature musical performances from Shok Jordan, Shawn Hollaway, Yung Skola and Shai Boogie, poetry readings from Zadie Gregory and a dance by Dance Elite. The entire day will be filled with music from DJ Primo.

By having positive influences in the area of aiding youth violence, this brings the aspect of mental health and wellness into the limelight in a positive way.

“We hope to give people a better understanding of mental wellness and how to take it in a positive light,” said Caranci. “This mission will show that people can get the help that they need if they need it.”

Breaking down stereotypes and stigmas as a community is the primary focus for the senior project focused on mental wellness. That topic usually has a negative connotation or is misunderstood, but the team hopes to reverse people’s thinking about its influence on youth violence.

“It is something that needs to be talked about. In these situations of violence, it’s obvious that someone doesn’t know how to handle their illness or anger, or who to go to about how they are feeling,” said Ward. “The positive aspect is that there is help out there and Erie has a high amount of facilities.”

The M.E.R.C.Y. mission project seeks to welcome all backgrounds for togetherness, advocacy and a promotion of the common good.

“We are seeing how lots of people act out of emotion and emotions can sometimes make you make wrong choices,” said Ward. “It’s OK to be mad and upset, but it’s not OK to hurt others because of it. This will let people know that it’s real and you don’t have to be embarrassed about feeling that way.”

A major event such as this took nearly the entire year to implement, and was not without a few bumps in the road. However, the Social Work department believes that through the process, their students gain the most experience, knowledge and opportunities to cultivate their skills.

“We want them to use this experience and have that feeling that they are now ready to graduate,” said Fauble. “It is important to have the experience of building something from the ground up themselves.”

Shanahan, Caranci and Ward all expressed some of the challenges they faced, especially getting all members of the project on the same page.

“In the end, what it comes down to is that even though we may disagree, everyone knows we just want to put on something good and everyone wants it to be a success,” said Shanahan. “We may not know the exact way to go about it, but everyone has the same end goal.”

Ultimately the seniors made the experience more worthwhile for themselves, learning skills such as time management, networking, collaboration and organization. Working with others directly prepared them for their careers in social work.

“In social work you are going to deal with all different types of people and have to have diverse thinking, the ability to suppress your own feelings and emotions, to know how to reason and to be accepting of others,” said Ward. “Doing this group project has definitely made us do each and every one of those things.”

Not only did the seniors learn skills for their career, but also skills of compassion and working with others that fall in line with the mercy mission at Mercyhurst and allow them to make real change in their community.

“We are so proud of all they have accomplished. It is definitely in the spirit of the Mercy Tradition,” said Fauble. “It feels so good to see the students viewing themselves as people that can create change, because in reality many of us can make change happen in our everyday world.”