Three groups of senior University of Louisville nursing students answered that question firsthand this semester when they worked with residents of a homeless shelter, middle and high school students and people who live in government-assisted housing.

Each group applied for and received $100 grants to pay for required culminating experience projects in the Community Leadership Practicum.

The idea for the $100 Solution™, as it’s called, began in 2005 with the Prospect/Goshen Rotary Club, which encouraged youth to identify a community-determined social problem, study its causes with community leaders and determine strategies to address the issue. The young people received $100 to help pay for their solutions.

Nursing professor Marianne Hutti PhD, WHNP-BC, decided to bring the idea to the School of Nursing this year.

“Nursing students see the poverty and problems that exist as a part of our society,” Hutti said. “The $100 Solution™ allows them to use their nursing knowledge and skills to give back and create solutions for our community. I want my students to understand they don’t need a lot of money to make a difference.”

The money allowed one group to purchase supplies and other materials for a foot-care clinic at the St. John Center for homeless men.

The group determined that  many of the men either had, or were at-risk of, developing foot problems related to constant walking, ill-fitting shoes, limited access to clean socks and exposure to heat and cold, said senior Kristen Wieder.

The students prepared for the clinic by collecting donations of soap, socks, foot powder, Band Aids, gloves, water bottles, paper towels and trash bags. They purchased other items with their grant money — additional gloves, socks, and posters with health-related information.

More than 50 men participated in the one-day clinic. Students washed the men’s feet, gave away new socks and discussed proper foot care with them.

“Nursing is more than healing physical wounds,” Wieder said. “It was amazing how much it meant to the homeless men to have someone talk with them and spend time with them.”

The project’s impact has lasted more than the one day. St. John Center staff members still are using the posters in monthly educational sessions about stress, diabetes management and general nutrition.

The other two groups used the $100 to teach middle and high school students about contraceptive methods and sexually transmitted infections, and to teach residents at the Portland Plaza about safe exercise through a low-impact health and wellness program.

“Many of my students haven’t been outside their comfortable communities,” Hutti said. “It’s great to see them grow and become more polished as seniors — ready for their nursing careers.”

Funding for the school’s $100 Solution™ is from half of a $5,000 Community Engagement Award a group of nursing students received from UofL’s Office of Community Engagement for a culminating experience project in spring 2010. The other half of that award likely will go to the nursing school’s Kentucky Racing Health Services Clinic.

I am grateful to the Office of Community Engagement for funding that is helping my students make positive changes in the city, Hutti said.