IIHHS Teen Health Fair goes virtual


By: Creative Services Staff

Teen Health Fair graphic

Each year, JMU’s Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services (IIHHS) hosts a teen health fair at Harrisonburg High School. The event provides a wealth of information about health services available to local teens.

When the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation this year, the status of the annual event was up in the air. Fortunately, social work major Callie Phillips was able to use her practicum experience to transform the fair into a virtual event. Demonstrating the interdisciplinary nature of the event, student interns Lola Beste (psychology) and Melissa Yeboah (health services administration) also added their diverse talents to the project.

“My practicum supervisor emailed me and asked what I thought about doing a virtual teen health fair instead. I didn’t know what that could be, but set to work on figuring that out,” Phillips said.

The plan involved creating a website and Facebook event page. The website allowed agencies that were unable to participate in the Facebook event to still be included in the catalog of resources. Phillips built the website using Wix, a free online tool. With the help of Beste and Yeboah, she developed a question list to gather consistent information on roughly 20 agencies.

Convincing agencies to participate in the video event proved to be a bit of a challenge. When an email asking people to complete a google form didn’t result in any responses, Phillips realized she needed to change her approach.  She contacted them again with instructions, a sample video, and an ongoing offer of assistance.

Phillips explained, “Some were interested but didn’t really understand the purpose behind it or the requirements. I tried to make it as simple as possible by making a short list of questions for them to answer on screen. I think after I created a sample video and explained it, they understood that this didn’t have to be a huge commitment and over time, with my consistent contact, they helped.”  Eventually, 14 agencies participated during the live event representing agencies ranging from the Church World Service to the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Community Service Board.  Public agencies such as the Harrisonburg City Fire Department and Harrisonburg Health Department also created videos.

The Facebook Live event allowed people to tune in together and was designed so that viewers could ask questions while watching the videos. Another benefit of the virtual event was that it enabled teens to continue to participate after the premiere date.  

Previous teen health fairs took place over a single day and were only open to students at Harrisonburg High School.  Because this year’s virtual event was advertised to all the schools in Harrisonburg and Rockingham county, there are still people viewing the videos for the first time.  As of May 1, 866 people were reached through the Facebook page.  The team feels the outcome was a success, especially considering the obstacles and limitations they faced.

Callie Phillips“Having to coordinate the event entirely through email was a challenge. It showed me just how much we rely on in-person communication and contact to get our work done and how much things change behind the computer,” Phillips said. 

The website and Facebook event page are sustainable and can continue even after Phillips graduates.  “The pages are both free so that they will be live available to view even if people are not monitoring them!”

Field work for social work students serves an important role beyond community engagement.  Each BSW student is required to have at least 400 supervised field hours prior to graduation. Academic unit head Lisa McGuire explains, “This semester, student In field placements had to be flexible and responsive to the challenges in delivering services during the pandemic. This is one example that shows us, as well as our students, know that they are practice-ready when they receive their BSW degrees!”  

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Published: Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Last Updated: Wednesday, May 27, 2020

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