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On a symbolic day, future nurses connect with homeless patients

April 13, 2017

ASU students run foot-care clinic on Maundy Thursday at Tempe church

A group of Arizona State University nursing students participated in a foot-care clinic for homeless people in Tempe on Thursday, gathering at Community Christian Church, just south of the campus, and setting up stations where they could wash, dry and tend to the feet of their clients, who were lined up by 7 a.m.

“This is part of the community aspect of nursing — outreach for the vulnerable populations,” according to Mara Scaramella, a clinical instructor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at ASU.

The 14 ASU seniors all are in a community health class and have spent the semester working with people at Central Arizona Shelter Services; U.S. VETS, which provides services for veterans; and the Collaboratory on Central, a complex for poor, elderly and disabled people in downtown Phoenix. The foot-care clinic coincided with Maundy Thursday, which commemorates the day Christians believe Jesus washed the feet of his disciples in an act of humility.

“A lot of times the homeless are faceless, the people on the corner. But they’re just like, us and they have hopes and dreams and needs,” Scaramella said.

Foot care is important for homeless people because they walk so much.

“Many times their feet are damaged from wearing the wrong-sized shoes, not changing their socks or walking around with wet shoes, and we find it important on this symbolic day to take care of their feet,” Scaramella said.

ASU nursing student Samantha Amundsen said her training prepared her for this kind of outreach.

“Everything we do is learning how to connect with patients from all demographics and all walks of life. It’s rewarding for us because we get to connect with people we don’t usually get to connect with and learn about their stories while we’re seeing them,” she said.

After washing, the future nurses trimmed toenails, filed away callouses and dabbed ointment on sores.

Sue Ringler started the program several years ago when she was the instructor for the community health course at ASU. She also is a pastor and noted that many churches — and even the pope — perform symbolic foot washings on Holy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter, which commemorates the Last Supper.

“I thought we should be washing feet that needed to be washed, not just symbolically,” said Ringler, who is pastor of Guardian Angels Catholic Community, which meets at Community Christian Church. The two congregations do service projects together.

“So it became a tradition to do this in a very real way. I still have students who contact me and tell me this was their favorite experience — having an opportunity to sit with folks and chat with them about their life.

“This kind of care is very intimate, but it gets them ready for that intimacy they’re going to have during their career.”

The church members and sporting-goods retailer REI donated nearly 150 pairs of shoes and 500 pairs of socks. After the foot care, every client got new shoes and socks and then had a hot breakfast.

Ringler said she sends fliers about the clinic to groups that work with homeless people. That’s how James Haller found out about it.

“My mom told me I needed to get my feet taken care of,” said Haller, who injured his foot several years ago. “With the steel plate in my foot, I have to make sure they’re comfortable.”

Nursing student David Vargas dried Haller’s toes, dabbed on some ointment and gently eased a new pair of black compression socks onto his feet.

“It feels awesome — relief,” said Haller. “Everything is a blessing that everyone does for us.”

“It’s a blessing for us also, James,” Vargas said.


Top photo: ASU nursing student Alexandra Melikian massages and applies lotion to the blistered feet of Aaron Wauneka, from Sawmill, Arizona, as she and other students volunteered their services at a foot-care clinic at Community Christian Church in Tempe on Thursday. Wauneka pushes his grandfather 18 miles each day in his wheelchair. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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Birds live longer in the city, but what does it mean for us?

City birds live longer and reproduce less, ASU visiting researcher finds.
April 14, 2017

ASU visiting scientist research shows differences between urban, rural house finches and finds human parallels

Cities are slowing the pace of life for birds — and maybe humans.

A visiting scientist at Arizona State University is investigating why some birds adapt so well to life in cities, and how urban living affects them.

“I’m studying urbanization using birds as a model species to understand evolutionary processes that are triggered by cities popping up all over the world,” said Tuul Sepp, a postdoctoral researcher visiting from Estonia.

Many species of birds don’t like urban environments and don’t adapt to them well. Other species thrive in cities. One of them is the house finch.

Sepp is studying what makes the house finch able to adapt to city life so well. Do urban and rural house finches differ? And, on a longer scale, what evolutionary changes might we expect to see as house finches continue to live in cities?

“If we understand how urbanization affects house finches, maybe we can make some general assumptions even of how urbanization affects humans, because we are also an animal species moving into cities,” she said.

There are curious parallels between birds and what is observed in humans. Birds live longer in cities. They have better survival rates. The same is true for people; they have fewer accidents and better access to health care, for example. If cities make life easier, they can also induce other changes. Birds have fewer chicks in cities, for instance.

“This could be because they are living longer, and they know that they will have another chance,” Sepp said. “They don’t have to put out everything they have in the first breeding season.”

Rural people have more children than urban folks, too.

“Could it be because they’re expecting in an evolutionary sense an increased risk of dying?” she said. “That’s a speculative parallel I’m going on here.”

Urban birds have fewer parasites and invest less in feather coloration. More color shows off for potential mates, but it’s also an investment in reproduction, because they can’t use the pigments in their feathers for other body functions.

“This is what I’m testing here: that cities actually slow the life of birds, and maybe also for humans,” Sepp said. “Urban birds invest more in their health, and rural birds invest more in reproduction.”

Putting all this together — longer life span, smaller reproductive success, increased investment in self-maintenance as opposed to reproduction, all happening in cities — is a novel theory.

The first year of the study will be conducted at ASU. Sepp has placed nesting boxes on the downtown and Tempe campuses for urban samples, and at South Mountain Park and in Estrella Mountain Regional Park for rural samples. The second year of the study will be conducted in Estonia, a completely different environment.

Sepp is conducting the study out of Kevin McGraw’s lab. McGrawMcGraw is in the School of Life Sciences, which is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. is an integrative behavioral ecologist who studies the colors of birds to understand the costs, benefits and evolution of visual signals. He has been conducting a long-term study on urban impacts to birds since 2008.

Sepp’s study is funded by the European Commission's Horizon 2020 project, a European Union research and innovation program that supports basic and applied research and development and technological innovation across a wide range of disciplines.


Top photo: Tuul Sepp, a postdoctoral researcher visiting from Estonia, studies house finches like this nestling from her nest box at South Mountain Park in Phoenix. She says cities appear to be slowing the life of the house finches she has observed. It could be true of humans, too, she said. Photo courtesy of Tuul Sepp/ASU

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now