Tillery is a small, isolated, rural North Carolina community. Citizens of the community are primarily elderly (60%), African-American (98%) and live in poverty (90%). Tillery was developed as a resettlement agricultural community as part of the New Deal of the Great Depression. Tillery remains a rural area that lacks health practitioners; the nearest health care facility is 20 miles away.
East Carolina University (ECU) is located approximately one hour from Tillery. Since 1987, the ECU School of Medicine has conducted a one-day-per-month free medical clinic in Tillery, staffed by volunteer medical students and faculty. In 1995, a Learn and Serve America grant facilitated the expansion of volunteer health services to include Environmental Health, Exercise and Sport Science, Health Education, Medicine, Nursing, Nutrition, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy and Recreation and Leisure Studies. Thus, the Tillery Learn and Serve Project came into existence. The partnership of ECU and Tillery has been quite successful for all involved. Students have gained valuable experience while the citizens of Tillery have received quality health services.
One aspect of the ECU-Tillery partnership is that valuable health services are provided at no cost to recipients. For example, a team of ECU health education students went door to door in the community to conduct a health assessment. The results revealed that citizens suffered from various health problems and were at risk for many more. Under faculty supervision, the students now provide in-home Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy and recreation services. Nutrition services are being added, as well as visits from student nurses.
A tele-machine project allows select homebound residents to have a computer, video camera and telephone modem in the home, whereby, they can maintain contact (using images and sound) with a volunteer service provider. A cardiopulmonary assessment project offers heart and lung screening to community members. A model fitness program is now offered weekly in the community center. Recreation and Leisure Studies students built a walking trail and organized a community family day, Environmental Health students performed preliminary ground water testing, and Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy students made changes in homes to accommodate elderly residents with limitations (handrails, hand-held showers, ramps, etc.).
The cooperative partnership between the students and faculty of ECU and the concerned citizens of Tillery has enabled a variety of health services to be administered to Tillery residents. It is described as a win-win situation based upon efforts to address the unmet health needs of the Tillery community.