WEST COLUMBIA, SC -- Riverbank Elementary may be closed, but that hasn’t stopped school nurse Ruth Neese in her mission of helping others.
Neese -- a Lexington Two school nurse for eight years, after serving 31 years at what is today Prisma Health Baptist Hospital -- has taken her work out into the community to reach her students and others.
“I feel a strong need to do community outreach in very small ways,” said Neese, who started with goody bags after schools were closed for COVID-19. “I shopped for the items to fill my first 50 bags and started with drop-off yard visits, so I could see the faces of sweet children and send out words of encouragement to their families.”
She later put together 350 bags for Easter, thanks to candy donations made to the Scooter Scott Project. She delivered those bags to Riverbank Elementary -- along with snack bags from Scooter Scott -- to hand out to students at Lexington Two’s weekday drive-thru and bus delivery meal service.
“Now, I’m collecting donations of toothbrushes, toothpaste, bar soap and other self-care items,” Neese said. “I just couldn’t see a candy bag without a dental care follow-up!”
Neese also has two certified therapy dogs, Jet and Lu, who have been working on read-alouds, drive-by visits as well as stops to some Lexington County Fire Service stations.
“We have been temporarily displaced from our usual pet therapy commitments, so staying in touch with our community has kept our ministry moving forward,” said Neese, whose dogs typically visit extended care and adult day care centers and greet Sunday travelers passing through Columbia Metropolitan Airport, among other duties. She hopes this fall to visit children at Lexington County Library’s Cayce-West Columbia branch, as well as return to regular commitments with Jet and Lu.
“We’re keeping our hopes high that this too shall pass, and we will soon get the all-clear to return to our various pet therapy visits,” Neese said.
Riverbank Elementary Principal David Sims said Neese “definitely chose the right profession.”
“She loves helping others and meeting their needs,” Sims said. “During this recent challenge, Ruth has partnered with community resources to go out into the community to provide food, assistance, and comfort. She even took time to share her therapy dogs with first responders. Ruth has done exceptionally well coming up with ideas to serve others while away from school.”
Neese said her visits during this unprecedented time have brought “smiles and joy, laughter and thankfulness.”
“Community health nursing is one of my passions,” Neese said. “As a local, I love this community and feel the need to reach out in tiny ways to stay connected with the children and families we serve.”
Pictured: Riverbank Elementary nurse Ruth Neese, right, along with fellow Riverbank nurse Jessica Wahl, get ready to distribute snack packs recently at the drive-thru meal line at the school.