Carliegh Gainer smiling at the camera

VIU Nursing student gives back to community through successful grant application

February 6, 2023
Author: Eric Zimmer

Carliegh Gainer’s efforts mean Khowhemun Elementary School gets a new mural

Fourth-year VIU Nursing student Carliegh Gainer chose her field of study because she’s looking forward to a career that will bring her “to many different areas and places.”

Although she has not yet graduated, this reasoning behind her decision is already starting to play out in the form of a grant application that was approved recently to fund a mural project at a local elementary school.

But first, some background. Every year since 2012, VIU Nursing Professor Anita Carroll has taken nursing students to Khowhemun Elementary School in Duncan as part of her public health/community nursing course. Students participate in many different teaching and learning experiences at the school. The focus is on building safe and trustworthy relationships for students and staff at the school. Anita also teaches the importance of giving back to the school community.

To emphasize this, Anita involves her students in writing grants and organizing fundraisers to help the school in a variety of ways: paint donations, the purchase of a washer and dryer, emergency preparedness kits, food for a breakfast program, clothing drives, plants for the Indigenous gardens and so on.

When the semester ends, says Carroll, most students head off on their own paths for the summer. However, after working with the school for a semester, Anita says Carliegh reached out about an ArtStarts in Schools grant she had found that she believed would benefit the school and wanted to work on putting together an application.

Carliegh and Anita worked on the grant in the spring of 2022, submitting the final application on May 25. They then learned in the fall from the school’s then vice-principal Craig McLeod that the school was successful in receiving $9,800. 

The funds will go towards painting a mural on the inside of the front entrance of the school. 

“VIU Nursing has had a partnership with Khowhemun for years that has contributed to the school community. Carliegh approached us about how she could potentially contribute to the school community above and beyond the usual expectations of the nursing students," says Craig. "We decided that she would seek out any grants that might be applicable to highlighting the Indigenous culture within our school and create a lasting legacy at Khowhemun. We had recently hired a local Indigenous artist to paint some new murals on the front exterior of the school and thought having her come back to work with students would be a benefit to the school."

Preparing the application involved discussions with the Indigenous Education Team and principals “to understand the importance and meaning of a mural for the school,” explains Carliegh. “A mural is invaluable to the elementary school because the Indigenous knowledge and teachings within can be shared with generations of students.”

The biggest challenge of the whole process was communicating with various professionals for their input, which Carliegh says she overcame with patience and persistence.

“By being respectful of the time of others and concise in what was needed for the application, we submitted a complete application before the end of the deadline. It was a great learning experience," she adds. "Sometimes as students, we do not have the opportunity to fully understand how many people can be involved in these processes and what it takes to complete a grant.”

When she learned that $9,800 in funding had been secured, her reaction was “amazement and gratitude. I was grateful the voices of everyone involved were heard and amazed to know the school would have another piece to share with generations.”

For Carliegh, the whole experience and time in the program has driven home the fact that community nursing is “not often what people think it is; there is a huge variety of health and wellness needs we attend to, including health-related needs, basic needs and mental health support. In community nursing, we often collaborate with other agencies, provincial and federal government support, and community-based agencies, and an important piece is building trust, relationships and, in our context, a healthy school environment.”

A grant for a project like this helps further solidify and grow both the healthy school environment, and connectivity to the school community for Carliegh and her peers.

“Past nursing students recognized food insecurity was a challenge facing some families in the district and were the impetus for the start of the charity, Nourish Cowichan, which feeds hundreds of children in the Cowichan Valley School District,” says Carliegh. “This grant is another way to build community within this school. All students, faculty and staff will have a hand in this mural, and it is another gift of acknowledgment for this community.”

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