The Neighborhood Engagement Program aims to bring Walla Walla neighborhoods closer together and spark conversations about the needs of each community. After conceptualizing the project with Walla Walla City Manager Nabiel Shawa this summer through an internship with the City, Conner realized that the work on neighborhood engagement needed to be extended through the school year. Shawa then appointed Conner to lead this program as the new Neighborhood Engagement Coordinator. According to Conner, most neighborhood programs provide helpful services, but just for a specific group of people. Generally, the benefits of these programs only extend to the upper-middle-class suburban neighborhoods.
Lincoln High School in Walla Walla is for students whose behavior or academic problems bumped them out of the main high school.
These were to year-old boys! Kirby grew up in Dwight, a farm town 45 minutes west of Kankakee.
Her mother became an early role model when she took a stand and convinced the community that it needed an ambulance and paramedic program. Serious accidents were common as large semis roared through town, but the nearest hospital was 45 minutes to an hour away.
She also began doing volunteer work at the Greenhouse Clinic for street kids. I saw kids with middle ear infections that normally you would just treat with antibiotics. But the infection had broken through the ear, and they had infections in the bone around the ear, and the whole side of their face was swollen.
There, she began raising eyebrows among other physicians in her practice whenever she would see low-income patients for free. People said they were risking liability. The clinic would not be located inside Lincoln High School; it would work out of a dilapidated old apartment building next to the school.
At first, Kirby said, kids would come to the clinic with any excuse of an ailment—just to get away from school. But because the students were treated professionally, the value of the clinic began to sink in.
The staff saw shocking cases, such as a girl who came to them with back pain.
They have PTSD. Instead of hundreds of kids being suspended, the number went down to a dozen or so.
The model of school-based health centers also expanded to other schools in Walla Walla, including elementary schools, a middle school, and the main high school. Kirby has been dealing with slow-advancing multiple sclerosis since , and eventually the combination of her medical practice and volunteer work with the clinic took its toll.
So, she retired in , concentrating on her Master Gardener work—a fitting metaphor for the seeds she planted through the clinic in Walla Walla.
When the clinic first began in the rundown apartment next to Lincoln High School, she planted sunflowers in front. These were beautiful, unpretentious flowers that can grow in the toughest environment—like the kids.
We heal their wounds.