ASU students improve health and wellness at Westward Ho

August 17, 2020

A partnership between ASU and the historic Westward Ho building in Phoenix helps to improve the health and wellness of the neighbors living there while providing opportunities for students to gain practical work experience.

The Westward Ho is a well-known landmark in downtown Phoenix. The hotel was once frequently visited by politicians, celebrities and even President John F. Kennedy. Located on Central Avenue, today the 16-story building serves as affordable housing for the elderly and people with disabilities. 

ASU’s partnership with the Westward Ho provides internship experiences and programming for nursing and social work students while enhancing the quality of life of the residents. Since the partnership began in 2015, social work students have worked with residents in the hotel's Community Collaborative space located in the lobby of the hotel. While in-person events were suspended last spring in accordance with public health guidance related to COVID-19, students hope to offer virtual or in-person programming this fall.

Sarah Ford and Andria Chien in the Community Collaborative space at Westward Ho

From left: Sarah Ford and Andria Chien in the Community Collaborative space

The Collaborative aims to provide assistance to Westward Ho residents through counseling services, cultural and educational opportunities, referral services and social activities. 

Students who intern with the Collaborative can choose to work directly with residents at the hotel or in administration. Students who chose to work directly with members of the community are responsible for providing social opportunities for residents as well as working one-on-one with people.

Some social opportunities that the direct interns organize include weekly art groups, morning coffee get-togethers and creative writing groups. 

Students who work in the administration side of the Collaborative focus on supporting, improving and growing the program. These students do this by engaging more residents, applying for grants and using feedback to improve the program’s services. 

Nursing students also participate in the partnership by providing residents with health services including clinics, nutrition and disease prevention programs and blood pressure checks. 

Social work student and intern at the hotel Sarah Ford said that the program is empowering for students and the community. 

“It is a student-driven program that aims to ultimately improve the Westward Ho’s residents’ health status and quality of life,” Ford said.

Ford is also a recipient of a Woodside Community Action grant. This grant is given to ASU students who strive to help the community through service-based projects.

Ford's project, Furry Friends, is focused on helping isolated community members by hosting a social group for pet and non-pet owners at the hotel. 

The students involved with the Community Collaborative work to improve resident living in any way they can. The Community Collaborative’s goal is to “increase the Westward Ho’s community engagement and improve students’ practice skills as well as prepare them for interdisciplinary work,” Ford said. 

Recent master’s of social work graduate and former intern at the Westward Ho Andria Chien explained the Collaborative is trying to reach out to more residents. 

“Something we’re really trying to do right now is to engage more of the residents and try and get a higher percentage of them in here,” Chien said.

Students are improving resident engagement with monthly newsletters, providing free coffee in the mornings and talking to residents one-on-one. 

Chien said the Collaborative also aims to build community and include as many people as possible.

“Some of the challenges among the population are that there’s a lot of social isolation. People are living alone. They are not as connected with family and friends, so this program provides a place to socialize,” Chien said. 

That isolation can be exacerbated by the realities of a pandemic. But Chien says she and her peers intend to stay true to the mission of the partnership in new and innovative ways.

“From my perspective, ASU really wants to support their neighbors who are right here at Westward Ho by connecting students who have fresh new ideas with folks who are living right next door to try and improve their lives in whatever way we can,” Chien said.

Learn more about ASU’s Community Collaborative.