Emory Nursing, Spring 1998 - Volunteers

When it comes to community service, nursing school faculty practice what they preach.

Missions of the Heart

by Jeanie Davis

From outside, it looks like any diner that draws a big lunch crowd. Thread your way through the cozy cluster of tables, and you'll see the faces are friendly, the conversation lively. Fake daisies dot the tablecloths, but the good feelings here are genuine.

This is Cafe 458, located in the heart of downtown Atlanta, and it's in business to serve lunch to Atlanta's homeless, says Ann Connor, RN, a family nurse practitioner and a clinical associate professor of community health nursing at the School of Nursing. Nearly 15 years ago, Connor and her husband founded this creative alternative to the traditional soup kitchen.

Cafe 458 is also evidence that the spirit of community service is alive and well in the School of Nursing. Connor and her faculty and staff colleagues have spent countless hours heading programs that benefit the underserved people of Atlanta.

The chalkboard menu posted on the wall, with its "specials of the day," has come to symbolize the empowerment that people find at Cafe 458, says Connor. "It's all about giving people choices, helping them feel successful."

The emphasis, she says, is on offering homeless people a kindly ear, a circle of support, and a sense of respect, dignity, and choice. "We wanted to help people who were ready for the next step, who had been through detoxification and wanted to get off the streets." Referrals for the program primarily come from social service agencies, she adds.

A patchwork of funding supports Cafe 458 and Samaritan House, Inc., the umbrella organization dedicated to helping homeless people find work. Shelter and the recovery program are provided through another umbrella agency, Community of Hospitality, Inc. The recovery program offers health, legal, and psychosocial care. Volunteers help participants resolve conflicts, write resumés, find jobs, and simply enjoy life--going to plays, museums, movies, camping. Connor has spent many years chairing the boards of both agencies.

Many people simply need someone to hear their pain, says Connor. "We wanted to bring people in, let them tell their story, then set achievable goals to help them make the next step toward independence. It's more of a spiritual focus than you find in traditional treatment centers. Spiritual healing is at the root of getting well. It's also a 'success breeds success' focus."

Over the years, hundreds have graduated from the Cafe's Recovery Program. Nationally, 90% of such graduates relapse within the first six months of leaving a recovery program; two-thirds of all Cafe graduates are still clean and sober within the same time period. The program has become a prototype for others springing up around the country.

"Dignity is at the heart of this place," says Connor. "We're all on the same level here. Hugs are given freely. It's hard not to get hugged here."

Serving good food and kindred spirits

Faculty member Ann Connor founded Cafe 458 with her husband nearly 15 years ago.

Not far from Cafe 458 is O'Herne House, a huge brick building that serves as a refuge for mentally ill people who are homeless, explains Gary Wallace, PhD, an assistant professor and clinical nurse specialist in psychosocial nursing with the School of Nursing. Wallace has dedicated much of his time to O'Herne House since the days, little more than four years ago, when it was only an idea.

For those with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, O'Herne House provides safety, Wallace says. "Our residents are people no agency or shelter are able to help. Because of their mental illness, many are simply not able to function. We believe that because they are human beings, they are entitled to live in a safe environment."

There's space for 76 people to stay at O'Herne, and a waiting list of 20. Case workers keep in touch with those on the list, tracking them down through numerous phone calls to shelters and hospitals.

Wallace has referred his share of street people to the program. "These are people who are obviously hallucinating," he says. "It's difficult to get them to call us. We have to find out where they're going next, build their trust, encourage them to come in."

A family nurse practitioner, Wallace staffs the O'Herne House clinic twice a week, providing residents with primary health care and psychotherapy counseling. An estimated 350-plus people have lived at O'Herne, and about one-third have successfully left street life, managed their illness, and found jobs and housing.

Wallace gets great satisfaction from the people he has served. "They have unique stories to tell, how they have kept their integrity, their dignity, their personhood," he says. "These are people who have survived the double stigma of being mentally ill and homeless. I've learned much from them about what it takes to survive and remain whole. That's the gift I receive."

A safe haven for troubled souls

Faculty member Gary Wallace (l) started O'Herne House to provide a safe shelter for the mentally ill.

AID Atlanta has helped thousands cope with HIV infection through the efforts of local volunteers and staff--including one very dedicated School of Nursing professor--by providing a medical clinic as well as housing, income, and psychological counseling.

On the front lines for the past two years, James Pace, RN, DNS, is a nurse practitioner and one of three who staff AID Atlanta's medical clinic. From street people to executives, he says, "We see people from all walks of life." A hospice nurse before joining Emory, Pace is encouraged by the great hope offered by today's drug cocktails. "What used to be a death sentence can now be managed much like a chronic illness," he says.

Early intervention and educating patients on self-care are the program's goals. Much time is also devoted to providing emotional support and helping patients through the first rough months on medication. "We help them with their stamina, with mental compliance," says Pace.

He has helped patients through the toughest times, which often revolve around telling friends and family about their illness. "Once someone tests positive with HIV, their world tends to change," explains Pace, who is also an ordained Episcopalian minister. "They have to be so careful, there is such a stigma. You still see families who don't want to be near a son or daughter with HIV."

While the clinic has a 24-hour hotline, Pace gives his home telephone number to those with whom he's formed close attachments. "We all have our favorite patients, those we grow very, very attached to," he adds. "Your heart aches."

AID Atlanta - fighting on the front line

Dr. James Pace, a former hospice nurse, has volunteered for several years at AID Atlanta.


A Nursing Treasure | A Legacy of Scholars | 'A Remarkable Lady'
Missions of the Heart | A Question of Ethics
Newsbriefs | Development News | Alumni News & Class Notes

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Web version by Jaime Henriquez.

Last Updated: August 19, 1998