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We rise by lifting others: Human Services students come together digitally to lift one another up

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Written by Human Services Instructor Grace Ashline

When the unimaginable and unforeseeable happened that impacted everyone globally, I think I speak for the entire Herk-family when I say that it took me a few weeks to cycle through the grieving stages. I feel so deeply for all of the students who were impacted by what was beyond their control and changed without their consent. The first few weeks were predominately spent triaging calls from students who were understandably cycling through their own stages of grief and the collective trauma we were all experiencing. The loss of connection to staff, faculty, peers, and the community at large was reportedly comparable to taking their oxygen away.

I was trying to think of ways to help keep students engaged, connected, and supported and to help them remember that while we are physically distanced, we do not have to be socially or emotionally distanced. So I created a private Human Services Facebook group where students had an opportunity to sign on and share uplifting stories, resources, support, and re-connect. I also use the platform to provide live videos to connect with them all, check-in, and offer support to whoever needs it academically.

I was shocked at how many students were signing on. Within a week, we had over 40 members, and as of late, there are currently about 70 members of the Human Services program in the group. To witness students introduce one another—some of which never would have had an opportunity to connect on campus due to scheduling or other factors—was truly extraordinary. The best part? They are practicing the skills of compassion, active listening, and outreach during a time when it has proven to be what they need from one another the most. The Facebook group was a voluntary and invitational space to be a part of, and yet with the astounding feedback I was entrusted to receive, it became clear that this support group became a lifeline during this extraordinary time.

I wanted to think of a creative way to honor everyone who participated in the group, so I reached out to Robert Gassmann, professor of radio/television at the College, and proposed an idea about creating a surprise video that captures their faces, their accomplishments, their outreach, and quotes from the human services mission statement. He graciously helped to make that happen. Last week, it was announced on my individual classes and the Facebook page that the surprise would be revealed together.

The responses and reaction were overwhelming. Students were filled with well-deserved recognition, acknowledgment, and something they were able to share with their friends and loved ones. We have a saying in the Human Services program: "We rise by lifting others," by Robert Ingersoll. These students chose to rise above tremendous adversity, but did so because of their outreach to one another.