Red and White Ball Credit: Prameet Kumar

This weekend, the Minorities in Nursing Organization accomplished a lot on behalf of children’s health — including getting Dean of Nursing Afaf Meleis onto a dance floor.

On Friday night the group hosted the fourth annual Red & White Ball, a charity event that brings together Nursing faculty with Penn students for a night of performances, dancing and philanthropy. MNO’s major event for the fall semester, the ball reflects the group’s focus on raising awareness of health disparities between communities, one of the main objectives that led to MNO’s founding in 2001.

According to two-year MNO President and Nursing senior Kristen Townsend, empowering Nursing students to confidently promote health issues lies at the heart of the group. “[As a nurse], you’re really advocating for patients and communities,” she said. “I really think we help give minority students an outlet to get involved, and outlets for them to get leadership experience.”

The club — which is open to any interested Nursing students — includes male and female students from different ethnic backgrounds.

These members have come together over the past few years to work on projects ranging from health education for the West Philadelphia community and a spring clothing drive to lectures from Nursing professors about their research and fundraisers to help finance the ball.

This year, the board decided to give event proceeds to The Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice and Research, a collaboration among the School of Social Policy and Practice, School of Law, School of Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Previous balls have raised money to fight sickle cell anemia and to support women’s health before pregnancy, or preconception health. Tonya Lewis Lee, a preconception health advocate and wife of filmmaker Spike Lee, spoke at the 2008 ball.

Nursing professor Cynthia Connolly, who initially recommended the Field Center to the MNO board, has attended the ball for the past two years. She has provided guidance for the group along with professor Patricia D’Antonio, whose staff hosted dance lessons for Nursing faculty in preparation for the event.

Connolly believes MNO plays an important role in engaging the diverse population both at and beyond Penn. A 1980 School of Nursing graduate, Connolly said the work done by MNO reflects the University’s “profound” increase in diversity over the years and helps prepare students to care for the wide range of patients they will encounter professionally.

“I think this kind of organization is important for nursing as a discipline, in order to help the profession look more like the nation and the world as a whole,” she said.

The group also tries to build a home base for all types of Nursing students at Penn, Townsend said. She explained that MNO members reach out to Nursing freshmen and continuously aid each other in choosing classes, handling clinical work and adjusting to life at Penn.

Nursing sophomore Samantha Anderson, who serves as the group’s UMOJA representative, first heard about MNO as one of Townsend’s advisees and has participated ever since.

Also drawn to the group as a freshman, MNO’s External Vice President and Nursing senior Elaine Hoi described the group as a “family.”

“We all sort of stick together and brave the storm of the Nursing school together” she said.

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