June 16, 2017
UAB Gives Back Banner June 16, 2017

On a Sunday afternoon in late February, a group of UAB students took a break from hitting the books and hit the dance floor instead. For seven straight hours – from 2:30 to 9:30 p.m. – they danced.

It wasn’t just youthful exuberance (and enviable physical stamina) that fueled this party.

The students were volunteering for Dance Marathon, UAB Blazerthon’s biggest event of the year. The event, in conjunction with the Children’s Miracle Network Dance Marathon, raised $7,763 to benefit Children’s Hospital of Alabama.

That passion for helping others is what drives the nonstop dance, so to speak, of giving back to the community that happens across UAB’s campus every day.

The list of ways UAB serves its surrounding community is long and varied, from free healthcare clinics to free art classes, from efforts to end area hunger to efforts to address homelessness.

“Community service is one of the five pillars central to UAB’s mission,” says UAB President Ray L. Watts, MD. “Giving back is essential and highly beneficial to our local and global community, as well as our students, faculty and staff.

“As we continue to seek investment from the community – alumni, donors, companies, foundations and grateful patients – we also seek to invest in that community ourselves,” he added. “With more than 23,000 employees and nearly 20,000 students, we can and do make a difference.”

Building Homes for Those in Need

In the past three years, UAB Benevolent Fund has completed three Habitat for Humanity homes in the Birmingham area. UAB Softball Head Coach Marla Townsend has volunteered on each one and says it’s the hottest ticket in town.

“They have you sign up pretty far in advance and once they release the dates, you have to get in there fast because the sign-ups are filled so quickly,” she says. “That’s what’s so great about UAB: Everybody is so passionate about getting involved.”

More than 670 UAB employees and students volunteered more than 3,057 hours to build the 2016 Habitat for Humanity house for US Navy veteran and UAB Collat School of Business student Toni Byrd and her family.

Coach Townsend says the softball team members love the opportunity to serve. “It’s always about the people the houses are being built for, meeting them and getting to work side-by-side with them,” she says. “And there is something about seeing it go up. It starts with wood and concrete, and all of a sudden it’s a home.”

Employee contributions fully funded the homes, and UAB employee and student volunteers provided all the labor with the guidance of Habitat’s skilled professionals.

Helping Others Make an Impact

Through the UAB Benevolent Fund, UAB employees vote to award a $50,000 Community Impact Grant each year to one nonprofit or a coalition of nonprofits that will have a direct impact in education, health and/or economic security. Past recipients include Magic City Harvest and the Birmingham Public Library’s “Teens Engineer Birmingham” program.

This year, Hand In Paw received the grant to help fund “Petscription for the Classroom,” in which teachers use specially trained handler-and-animal therapy teams and lesson plans to motivate students in need. The use of therapy animals in classrooms can promote focus, encourage physical activity, strengthen social skills, decrease anxiety and improve speech, language learning, and cognition. Hand in Paw aims to serve 300 additional students in the first year of Petscription for the Classroom.

The grant is, in many ways, an act of gratitude for what Hand in Paw has done for UAB over its 20-year history. Therapy teams visit patients on several UAB Hospital units, and also provide stress relief breaks for students during finals. “UAB employees have witnessed the benefits of Hand In Paw firsthand,” says Benevolent Fund manager Lisa Higginbotham. “They wanted to share with local students what we have seen to be so effective here.”

Protecting Vision for the Future

There are not many things sweeter than when an infant smiles in response to someone else’s smile. That positive reaction – a developmental milestone by six months of age – is dependent on an infant’s vision health.

In April, faculty and residents from the UAB School of Optometry will conduct free eye examinations for infants between 6 and 12 months old through InfantSEE, a public health program. Early screenings allow physicians to detect current or potential vision problems. The American Optometric Association and Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc. Nationwide developed InfantSEE in 2005 to provide professional eye care for infants nationwide at no cost.

Blocking Cancer

UAB Basketball Head Coach Rob Ehsan pledged to donate $10 for every block tallied by the Blazers during the 2016-2017 season to the Gene Bartow Memorial Fund for Cancer Research. Each of the Blazer players pledged a $1 contribution for every blocked shot during Conference USA play.

UAB ended the season with more than 160 blocks. Student-athlete William “HaHa” Lee, aka the “Mayor of Blockingham,” alone was responsible for just under half of those.

"As coaches, and a program, we want to give back to the community," says Ehsan. "Part of our mission as a program is to be able to help in ways we can and do things like this. To be able to do it with something that's helped our team be successful is unique and rare."

The Bartow Fund honors the memory of former basketball coach and athletics director Gene Bartow for commitment to UAB and intercollegiate sports from 1978-2000. Bartow was treated for cancer at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and passed away in 2012.

Students Giving Back

UAB’s Student Experience calendar provides regular opportunities to give back. Student volunteers recently joined forces for Cleanup Day at Huffman Youth Ballpark, helping to landscape the grounds and paint the concession stand, press boxes and dugouts.

In November, more than 100 volunteers formed an assembly line to package more than 12,000 meals for hungry people in Belize through Stop Hunger Now Meal Packaging.

Students also contribute to the UAB Food Pantry, which supplies free food to students experiencing financial need and food insecurity. In addition, the student-founded Donor to Diner organization allows students to donate meals from their own meal plans to fellow students.

Service – along with scholarship, leadership and community – is one of the four core pillars of UAB’s 25 national fraternities and sororities. Nearly 1,200 UAB Greeks donated nearly $100,000 and more than 20,000 of hours to various charities every year. While each chapter focuses on its own national philanthropy, all of the organizations donate time and money to local projects, too. Sorority and fraternity members are involved in Alternative Spring Break trips, Summer Service Weekends, and the biannual Into the Streets day of service.

Access to Healthcare

In yet another example of the creative – and impressive – ways those in the UAB community give back, Kathleen Hamrick ran through a jungle for Equal Access Birmingham. Literally.

In October 2016, Dr. Hamrick, director of the UAB iLab at Innovation Depot, ran 157 miles in one of the world's top 10 most difficult endurance races: the Jungle Marathon. During the training for and running of the race, she raised $5,610 for Equal Access Birmingham, a free clinic run by School of Medicine students. EAB provides primary medical care to the uninsured and underinsured in the greater Birmingham community. Through the clinic experience, medical students see firsthand the challenges facing underserved communities.

The UAB Physician Assistant Program has spearheaded efforts by the School of Health Professions to provide clinical services at the Firehouse Shelter, which assists homeless men in Jefferson County and six surrounding counties. Under the guidance of James R. Kilgore, PhD, director of the UAB Physician Assistant Studies program, PA students see shelter clients every other Wednesday.

“This is one of those rare occasions that impacts the lives of everyone involved,” Dr. Kilgore says. “And the clients get the high quality medical care they so desperately need yet cannot access anywhere else.”

PA student Christophe Jackson says the opportunity to serve is paramount to the health of the community. “My purpose is to be a patient advocate, treat them with dignity and respect, listen and offer the very best medical care possible,” he says.

UAB Dentistry Cares Community Day started in 2013 to provide dental care to hundreds of low and no-income adults from Birmingham area shelters and other local agencies. In 2016, more than 500 underserved and homeless people received free teeth cleanings, restorations and extractions. Patients also can receive on-site wellness activities, including blood pressure checks and oral cancer screenings. Local dentists pitch in to support the event, volunteering on Community Day and assisting with follow-up treatment.