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IU South Bend teams with local groups to encourage wellness, love of reading

Community Engagement Apr 23, 2024

A man gets his blood pressure taken by a health sciences student. Meeting people where they’re comfortable is huge when trying to open doors and build relationships. Indiana University South Bend and 100 Black Men of Greater South Bend are taking that to heart with two different programs.

The organizations partnered with local barber shops to provide health screenings for men and to develop a love for reading in boys.

For the third year, Health Sciences students went into the barber shops to check blood pressure, test blood glucose levels and do weight checks.

“The idea is to get more accurate readings because we are meeting people in their place of familiarity. There is an expression in healthcare – white coat syndrome. It is falsely high BP readings due to the stress of being in the healthcare facility,” said Barbara White, assistant dean of nursing at IU South Bend. “For this event, nursing students are less intimidating, more trustworthy, and in the barbershops are meeting people in their environment of comfort.”

White said the testing is important because high blood pressure and high glucose goes undiagnosed sometimes for years when people are uncomfortable to routinely get healthcare.

“The barbershop is more than a place to get your haircut. It’s a place to fellowship with other men and develop relationships,” said Eldridge “Louis” Chism of 100 Black Men of Greater South Bend.

Two young boys read Where's Waldo? book together. Chism said those relationships play a big role with younger men in the community, too. That’s why his group teamed with IU South Bend’s School of Education for a “Books 2 Boyz” program. Donated books will be placed in the barber shops and kids will be encouraged to read while they’re waiting for a cut and to take a book home.

“We want them to understand they can read any time. Rather than giving them a phone to keep them occupied, you can read to them or have them read. We want to foster how important it is to learn all the literacy skills they can at every age level,” Chism said.

The program is starting at Al’s House of Style on Olive Street in South Bend and will expand to several other shops by this fall. Just like with the health screening, organizers say the influence of the barbers will be key to encouraging young people to pick up the books.

“There is something that’s unique and special about the barber and his authority that impacts the kids. You can’t explain it. It just happens. His opinion matters to the kids,” said Michael Harley, IU South Bend Director of Student Teaching and Clinical Practice.

“Most of the time, the kids are seeing the same person cutting their hair from the time they’re 4 or 5 until they’re 18 or 19. They’re long-standing relationships that really are sort of like family,” he said.

In addition to the small book libraries at the shops, they plan to offer information on how people can get library cards and provide information about the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program. It regularly delivers free books to homes from the time a child is born until they’re 5 years old.

The books for “Books 2 Boyz” have been donated by people on the IU South Bend campus and local businesses. There will be a variety of genres to be attractive to the kids.

“It doesn’t have to be a classic work of art. If it’s a graphic novel, he’s reading and that’s what’s important. As they read more, they’ll become better readers and will have better comprehension. It’s going to be a win for the child no matter what,” Harley said.

Organizers are excited for what this will look like as the program grows.

“Most men know that a barber shop is full of laughter and conversation about what’s happening in the community. But I think seeing a little man reading will be refreshing. I think it may spill over into adults reading. Who knows what this may do,” Harley said.

“I think the mindset is that we read at school, and we learn at school,” Chism said. “We don’t think about learning in environments that aren’t related to school. Getting them to put the phones down and pick up a book will help them learn just as much or even more.”

Chism said the partnership between 100 Black Men of South Bend and the university is shows both organizations are committed to the community.

“We work together and make things happen for kids and that’s the important thing. It’s a solid relationship where we can look at how we bring education value to students who might not be exposed to those things.”


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