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The Turtle Project

Volunteers help Matthews transport donations.

Volunteers help Matthews transport donations.

 

 

As a scientist, Shawna Matthews, PhD, was used to spotting problems and searching for solutions. But when she became concerned about the people experiencing homelessness in her community, the last place she expected to find a solution was in her daily commute to work.

Shawna Matthews

Shawna Matthews

In fall 2015, Matthews began a postdoctoral fellowship researching breast cancer metabolism in the Department of Pathology at the CU School of Medicine la viagra se vende sin receta. She noticed that her new commute required her to carry a lot of stuff between home and the Anschutz Medical Campus. “I left the house every day with a minimum of four bags,” she said. “And throughout the day, I seemed to accumulate more.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum were homeless veterans visiting the Mile High Behavioral Health Center on campus. Matthews observed them struggling to carry all of their possessions. “The contrast struck me and I wanted to do something about it.”

Connecting the campus to the community

Matthews had been looking for an opportunity to engage with her new campus. Her volunteer experience up until then was limited to acting as a science fair judge. But as she encountered the vets on campus and other experiencing homelessness in Aurora, she wondered how she could help.

The solution arrived via social media. On Facebook, Matthews saw her cousin in North Dakota was offering her acupuncture clinic as a drop-off site for the Turtle Project, a campaign that gathers and distributes backpacks and bags for the homeless.

The Facebook post resonated with her. “I sensed that this project could make a difference here,” she said. “My instinct was that CU Anschutz could pool the resources (and excess bags) that we have as scientists to help a population in our immediate community.”

Carrying their homes on their backs

The Turtle Project accepts donations of bags and filler items.

The Turtle Project accepts donations of bags and filler items.

Last fall, Matthews looked into the background of the Turtle Project and learned that the campaign’s name of the campaign refers to the fact that, like turtles, people experiencing homelessness carry their homes with them. The original Turtle Project began in North Dakota, when Fargo resident Whitney Fear learned that the homeless were receiving donations but didn’t have a place to keep their things.

The relevancy of this problem struck a chord with Matthews. “Providing resources only addresses part of the problem,” she said. “People experiencing homelessness also need a way to carry their stuff, and to keep their possessions secure.”

With cooler weather and the holidays approaching, Matthews quickly organized her own Turtle Project at CU Anschutz. She put out a call for bags, personal care supplies and lightweight nonperishable food items. She connected with the Comitis Crisis Center, a division of Mile High Behavioral Healthcare, to receive the bags and distribute them to their clients.

Donate a bag, backpack or supplies to the Turtle Project

Between now and mid-January, the Turtle Project aims to collect at least 200 bags, backpacks, and suitcases.

For more information about drop-off sites on the CU Anschutz campus, or for charitable contribution tax forms, please contact shawna.matthews@ucdenver.edu.

The project was a success. Matthews donated 98 bags to Comitis, whose homeless clients reported loving the bags. At each distribution event, there was more demand than supply, and those clients who didn’t receive a bag looked forward to the next delivery. Purses were especially popular. “The female clients were so excited,” Matthews said. “It’s fun getting a new purse.”

Turtle Project 2016

Matthews’ first campaign for the Turtle Project was such a success that she is organizing the project again this year. With additional volunteers, new drop-off locations, and increased storage space, she hopes to double the size of the collection. As of this writing, she had collected 35 bags in just a few weeks.

For those interested in helping, the project is soliciting donations of new or used bags, backpacks, large purses, conference bags, satchels and wheeled suitcases. These bags can be empty, or they can be pre-filled with small, useful items, such as hotel soaps, toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, Q-tips, hats, socks, gloves, small flashlights with batteries, ponchos and lightweight nonperishable food, such as granola bars or trail mix.

Other useful donations include items that provide some entertainment, such as playing cards, pen and paper, paperback books and puzzle books. The Turtle Project accepts these filler items, which it can use to stuff empty donated bags.

Seeing the unseen

For Matthews, the project has been a way to connect with her neighbors and co-workers by sharing resources, as well as to acknowledge and help often overlooked members of the community. She’s stepped outside of her comfort zone, but the results have been worth it.

“In academia, you can sometimes feel like you are a small spoke in a very large wheel,” she said. “I think the same thing happens to the homeless. The Turtle Project is a way of saying that we see each other.”

 

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CU Innovations, StartUp Health create program for health care innovators

Health care providers and researchers face a changing world, where technological advances ranging from ever-improving machine learning to simple smartphone apps are altering the $2.8 trillion industry. It’s a challenge that doctors, insurance providers and academic medical centers, including the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, are going to have to confront, Chancellor Donald Elliman said at the launch celebration for StartUp Health Colorado.

Carm Huntress speaks at the StartUp Health Colorado launch event. He is the CEO and cofounder of RxREVU, the first private company to be part of StartUp Health Colorado.
Carm Huntress speaks at the StartUp Health Colorado launch event. He is the CEO and cofounder of RxREVU, the first private company to be part of StartUp Health Colorado.

“We know technology is going to change our landscape,” Elliman said. “I don’t think we’re going to recognize health care five years from now.”

The recent event at Krugman Conference Hall announced the start of a new partnership that brings together CU Anschutz, UCHealth, Children’s Hospital Colorado and StartUp Health. The latter is an organization formed with the goal of encouraging entrepreneurs to build digital health companies. StartUp Health also helps clinicians and researchers interested in forming companies to commercialize their ideas and technology, as well as matching them with investors.

StartUp Health is helping the three entities create an “innovation hub” on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. The hub is StartUp Health’s first in the U.S. and joins Finland as one of two in the world. StartUp Health Colorado will co-locate with CU Innovations on campus and have access to StartUp Health’s network of industry leaders, investors and entrepreneurs.

The goals of StartUp Health Colorado are to facilitate innovation and entrepreneurship at each of the partner institutions, and to build, validate and commercialize at least 30 health startups within three years.

Embracing the need to innovate

Health care innovation is a focus for Elliman. In his recent State of the Campus address, Elliman said encouraging CU Anschutz faculty and researchers to be bolder and less risk averse should be a priority.

Rethinking how doctors and researchers work with private companies is part of that change, Elliman said. “If we don’t do it, we’re going to get run over by somebody who does,” he said. “It’s that simple.”

“We’re very lucky that, collectively, we look at this world and say, ‘We know it’s going to change, and we embrace that concept,’” he continued. “We want to lead it.”

Call for Innovations

StartUp Health Colorado also released a “call for innovations.” The initial call is for entrepreneurs and startups that are developing novel solutions that impact three key areas of healthcare to apply to receive co-development, clinical validation and pilot opportunities at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus institutions. The goal is to identify and nurture companies that will improve clinical outcomes and performance; help create a seamless patient experience; or improve communication and accessibility.

Entrepreneurs and companies can apply online by Dec. 9. The selected companies will be announced next spring. StartUp Health already supports more than 175 companies in 16 countries around the world.

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