TOPEKA, Kan. – Even though she has lived in Topeka her whole life, Dominique Becher didn’t know a lot about the local nonprofits and community organizations helping families in extreme need.
But in taking a Washburn University sociology class focused on high-impact community engagement practices, Becher, and several other students like her, are getting first-hand experience in not only recognizing an issue in the community but working to bridge any needs from the issue.
Students in one of Sangyoub Park’s courses, Social Class in the U.S., will host the class’s third annual diaper drive for Community Action from March 15 to 28.
The diaper drive was born out of a class project in 2018 to find a hidden social problem — in this case, the heavy burden pricey diapers can have on lower-income families — and develop a solution for it.
Park, who teaches in Washburn’s sociology and anthropology department, said students were startled to find the various ways struggling parents adjusted to save on diapers, such as reusing some of them.
“They said, ‘Can we do something about this?’ ” Park said.
The project turned into a yearly effort, including in 2020, when the diaper drive kicked off just as COVID-19 started having a real effect on Kansas. The class last year then focused more on fundraising to donate cash to Community Action of Topeka.
And if anything, the pandemic has only highlighted the disparities some parents face when it comes to routine items like purchasing diapers, and the needs are only greater this year, Park said.
But even though the project mainly focuses on helping others in the community, students also take away a sense of appreciation and awareness of different social issues even beyond the need for diapers.
“Just being so hands-on with this project, I feel like I’ve gotten the confidence to maybe do my own kind of drive later on,” said Becher, whose class group developed flyers for the drive. “I hope others know they can make a difference directly in their community, and it doesn’t have to be a huge thing through a huge organization. Random groups can make a big impact in their communities.”
“As college students, we’re not really thinking about diapers,” said senior Reagan Propps. “It’s really been realizing how expensive they are.”
It is a particularly hidden social issue, Park said, because of the ways diapers’ financial burden can snowball into bigger economic issues. A parent might not be able to work because they can’t afford day care because they can’t afford diapers, he said.
“We just want to get people aware that this is an issue,” Park said.