Lovers of local trivia might know that a scene from the 1999 film "In Dreams" was shot in a basement hallway of the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke. Those familiar with the Soldiers' Home might know that its residents, mostly World War II veterans, have dubbed the hallway "Hollywood Boulevard." However, all it took was watching the local news lately to know that the hallway has taken on a new identity thanks to a group of inspired nursing students at Elms College and the aid of Holyoke Catholic High School art students.

Senior Project Brings Community Together

Tue Jun 19, 2012

Lovers of local trivia might know that a scene from the 1999 film "In Dreams" was shot in a basement hallway of the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke. Those familiar with the Soldiers' Home might know that its residents, mostly World War II veterans, have dubbed the hallway "Hollywood Boulevard." However, all it took was watching the local news lately to know that the hallway has taken on a new identity thanks to a group of inspired nursing students at Elms College and the aid of Holyoke Catholic High School art students.

Senior nursing student Cara Martin has aspirations of becoming a clinical nurse in the military. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to reach out to the Soldiers' Home when she was formulating her senior project. The project is the culmination of two courses, Leadership and Role Development in Nursing and Professional Nursing Practice in the Community, taken in the spring semester of each nursing student's senior year.

"[Our] goal is to prepare them to work in all areas of health care, including the community, since most of their other clinical work is institution or agency-based," explained Christine M. Schrauf, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing and instructor of Cara's Professional Nursing Practice in the Community course. "Their final project serves as the major assignment for both courses. In community health, the objective is to assess a community of individuals, determine their priority health-related needs, and plan and implement a project to help meet those needs."

Cara met with Soldiers' Home Director of Nursing Pam Quirk to determine the needs of the residents at the facility. Pam told Cara and the other nursing students in her group (Emmelene Demers '12, Christina Bletz '12, Jennifer Killion '12, and Aimme Perreault '12) that, although there were plenty of activities that provided mental stimulation for the residents, there needed to be something to induce more physical activity.

"Obesity has been skyrocketing in the U.S., even with these patients. Just because they're using a walker doesn't mean they can't get better," Cara said.

"The goal for any of these people is independence," added Debra Tomaszewski, the faculty advisor for the project.

To develop a motivating and structured program, the nursing students looked no further than the Elms campus. Each year, faculty, staff, and residents compete in Elms Across America, where teams of four track their weekly miles (biking, walking, swimming, or running) and a map of the United States is hung in the Maguire Center showing how far each team has traveled. After surveying the residents of the Soldiers' Home, the nursing students created a similar program, "These Boots Are Made for Walking: Soldiers Across America." Instead of a map, the students decided to paint along the walls of the famous Hollywood Boulevard, the 1/16-mile loop in the basement, where the residents can track their weekly miles.

"The response was overwhelming. They were very interested in doing something and liked it because it was something new," Cara said.

Like any big project, there were setbacks. The director of maintenance at the Soldiers' Home said that paint would not stick to the walls in Hollywood Boulevard. Additionally, none of the nursing students were particularly artistic. Through a connection at Holyoke Catholic High School, the students contacted the art teacher Jacqueline Boudreau-Kinsey, who involved all of her classes in the project. To solve the problem of painting on the walls, they decided to velcro mount medium density fiber masonite boards, which can be painted in the classroom and transported to the Soldiers' Home once they are all completed. The result was an astonishing mural of America: the Statue of Liberty, Niagara Falls, Las Vegas, and the Golden Gate bridge among other famous landmarks.

"Holyoke Catholic has been instrumental through all of this. The project would not have come together if they had not volunteered this much," Cara said.

To view a video of the ribbon cutting ceremony, click here.