Medical Assistant Students Serve at Food Shelf

Food Shelf
Medical Assistant Students Serve at Food Shelf

Vineyard Community Services and DCTC partner via service-learning project

Students in the Medical Assistant program at Dakota County Technical College are participating in a service-learning project at the Fruit of the Vine Food Shelf in partnership with Vineyard Community Services of Burnsville, Minn. Medical assistant instructor, Margaret Noirjean, worked with Katie Halcrow, director of service-learning at DCTC and Inver Hills Community College, to establish the project by building a connection with Brian Geraty, the executive director of VCS and a compassionate ministry pastor at South Metro Vineyard Church.

“In past years, our students were obliged to come up with new ideas for volunteer projects such as collecting items for homeless shelters or holding a walkathon,” Noirjean said. “Katie found us a service-learning experience that not only gives our students the opportunity to practice their skills in the field, but is also a project that we will continue doing in the future.”

The second-semester students served in a variety of ways at Fruit of the Vine, working to assist the food shelf’s clients, or neighbors, on designated Fridays and Saturdays in February, March and April. They set up a clinic and provided vital community health screening services to the neighbors, who are frequently in urgent need of health care. The students performed blood pressure screening and gave information on cancer screening and prevention as well as heart health, including the dangers of smoking. They performed random glucose screening and offered information about diabetes. Because a proper diet is the key to good health, the students also shared nutrition information, including handing out a small recipe booklet.

“Friday is generally quieter than Saturday at Fruit of the Vine, as Friday is geared more to seniors than families,” Noirjean said. “Approximately 600 neighbors visit on Saturdays. Besides staffing our clinic, the students also sorted and packaged food, performed intake, greeted neighbors, pushed carts and loaded vehicles. They really enjoyed the experience, especially the opportunity to assist actual patients in need.”

Patrice Nadeau and Margaret Noirjean

Patrice Nadeau, a medical assistant instructor, is delighted with a service-learning project that can benefit both her students and the community for years to come. “Service-learning gives our students a valuable opportunity to work with people outside the classroom and gain confidence in their skills before going to clinic practicums,” she said. “Margaret has put many hours into creating a schedule and plan for working with the neighbors at Fruit of the Vine. This is the best service-learning opportunity that we have had in recent years—and we are grateful for the partnership.”

Brian Geraty provided an orientation for the students—with some discovering they qualified for food shelf assistance. Geraty noted that a large percentage of the neighbors served by VCS have diabetes or other serious health issues. The screenings provided by the medical assistant students are an important step to achieving a better state of health and wellness.

“Our mission at Vineyard Community Services is to serve individuals and families in crisis, creating opportunities for self-sufficiency and rebuilding personal assets. Our focus at Fruit of the Vine is on providing healthy food with large portions of produce—and the word has spread, making our food shelf very popular.” — Brian Geraty, executive director of Vineyard Community Services and compassionate ministry pastor at South Metro Vineyard Church

Student perspectives

Justin Kiese
Age: 32
Hometown: Rochester, Minn.
2000 graduate John Marshall High School

Justin Kiese had been thinking about pursuing a career in health care for a long time, but as he got older going to college always seemed a little daunting. “I knew I wanted to go to a technical school,” Justin said. “The Medical Assistant program at DCTC is well recognized and the price is amazing. Making the decision to enroll was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but I’m glad I did. Going to DCTC has reawakened my desire to learn.”

He enjoys lab work, especially microscopic analysis, and appreciates how his instructors are focused on their students. “Margaret and Patrice care that you are doing well and understanding the material,” he said.

On the Fruit of the Vine service-learning project: “Priceless. As students, we get used to practicing our skills on each other. Interacting with the public is great. Not only do we get our practice in, but we also get to be there for the community in need.”

Justin takes advantage of the college’s Wellness Center, going every day he’s on campus. He also likes the resources provided by the college library. He lives with his partner in Minneapolis along with two freagles, aka frengles, (French bulldog and beagle mix), Oliver, 2, and Eleanor, 2.

Katie Pelinka
Age: 27
Hometown: Duluth, Minn.
2004 graduate Duluth East High School

Katie Pelinka attended the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., studying the sciences for three and half years before deciding to return home to Minnesota. Katie’s desire to enter the health care field dates back to the sixth grade and an essay she wrote about becoming a nurse and working on a team. She was in her teens when she provided hospice care to her stepfather, who had lung cancer. The Medical Assistant program gave Katie the chance to pursue her quest to work in health care.

“I succeed off of structure and the classroom setting at DCTC appealed to me,” she said. “I love my fellow students and I love that my instructors are so experienced as teachers.”

On the Fruit of the Vine service-learning project: “I had never been to a food shelf and I found the experience humbling and eye-opening. The people really appreciated our being there. One woman was so bubbly and upbeat—she changed my perspective on what it means to ask for help. She showed me that it’s not a sign of weakness to admit we can’t always make it on our own. This is something I will definitely do again.”

Katie took first in Medical Math and second in Medical Terminology at the 47th Annual SkillsUSA State Championships. She has advanced to represent Minnesota in Kansas City, Mo., June 23–27, 2014, at the 50th annual National Leadership and Skills Conference (NLSC). Her boyfriend, Sean, serves in the U.S. Navy. They reside in Eagan, Minn., but are making plans to move, possibly to San Diego, Calif., after Katie graduates.

Kassi Rojas-Dominguez
Age: 19
Hometown: Bloomington, Minn.
2013 graduate Eastview High School

Kassi Rojas-Dominguez views the Medical Assistant program as an expeditious way to pursue her dream of becoming a registered nurse in pediatrics. “I wanted something close to home,” said Kassi, who loves working with children and is bilingual, fluent in both English and Spanish. “This program is a great way to get my feet in the water in health care.”

She likes that the program is so hands-on. “I learn new skills and put them into action every week,” she said. “I really like my teachers. Margaret [Noirjean] is outgoing and has cool stories to tell. Patrice [Nadeau] gives wonderful insights into learning. Kathy [Tettam] has experience as a medical assistant and tells us what it’s like in a clinic setting. Kathy [Miller] is great in the labs.”

On the Fruit of the Vine service-learning project: “It was cool interacting with the neighbors. I was surprised that I could put my Spanish skills to the test as an interpreter. I gained more confidence going out into the field and talking to people using my second language and making them feel comfortable.”

Kassi has three younger sisters, Alondra, 15, Itzel, 12, and Angel, 9. She works while going to school as an associate in the men’s department at Macy’s in the Burnsville Mall. She is making plans to attend North Dakota State University after she graduates from DCTC. “I want to be the nurse that makes patients smile,” she said.

Katie Halcrow is glad she could help launch a long-term service-learning project that brings a college and community organization together to serve people in need. “We are so excited about this new partnership between Vineyard Community Services and the Medical Assistant program at DCTC,” she said. “As the largest single-site food shelf in Minnesota, Fruit of the Vine offers an incredible opportunity for our medical assistant students to assist their community by practicing their skills while also learning firsthand about the struggles many Minnesotans face—struggles that can put their health at risk. I can’t think of a situation that could be a better win-win-win.”

For more information about service-learning or how to get a service-learning project off the ground, contact:
  • Katie Halcrow
    Director of Service-Learning
    Dakota County Technical College and Inver Hills Community College
For more information about the Medical Assistant program at DCTC, contact: