When Kaylin Morford and Heather Turner met while studying abroad in South Africa, the two envisioned creating a support group for students with invisible diseases when they returned to APU. Out of that dream came STRONG, a group that brings awareness to illnesses including lyme disease, fibromyalgia, cystic fibrosis, chronic pain, depression and anxiety.
Morford, a senior psychology major, said she is already seeing its impact in the lives of those on campus.
“Many students and faculty have excitedly jumped on board with STRONG’s mission, and I have seen how God is working in people’s hearts to instill a passion for an often times overlooked community,” Morford said.
Turner, a junior social work major, lives with fibromyalgia, a neurological pain disease, and interstitial cystisis, an auto-immune bladder disease, while Morford lives with lyme disease. According to Turner, their experience was special because they had a mutual knowledge of what the other was going through.
“[It was] beautiful fellowship between people who understand,” Turner said.
This bond inspired them to start a group for students with similar stories to facilitate open discussions, which lead to STRONG.
“God has been giving constant affirmation that this is a group that is so needed,” Morford said. “A year ago, STRONG was just a dream, and now seeing it be beneficial to so many people, including myself, has been such a gift.”
The first meeting began with six people. It has grown to 15 regular attendees each week and has been established as an official campus club. STRONG has gained the support of faculty and staff, along with a continued effort to spread awareness.
“We really just want everyone who needs this group to know about it so they can be here,” Turner said. “Doing STRONG is worth it whether one person comes or whether 100 people come, but I think we really do imagine it growing because we know there is a large need on campus.”
University Counseling Center Director Bill Fiala, Ph.D serves as an adviser to the club.
“As director of a campus counseling center, one of my greatest joys is watching students activate to care for and educate one another,” Fiala said.
Fiala said he was inspired by Morford and Turner, who saw a need on campus and took it upon themselves to meet that need.
“Seeing our STRONG students succeed academically and personally while coping with the unique challenges of chronic pain and illness is inspiring for me personally,” Fiala said. “I have learned a great deal from these students about resilience and faith in action.”
Morford said the group hopes and plans to continue growing closer.
“Hearing about the different ways each person has become connected with STRONG leaves me in awe of how beautifully God has organized our community,” Morford said.
Turner said STRONG is not an acronym for anything, but an emphasis on the strength of its members.
“Our goal truly is that people would be able to come to APU already knowing that there are people here that want to support and love on them and walk through life with them, and that no one would be here at APU doing this alone and in isolation,” Turner said.
In upcoming months, the group is planning a lecture from a theology professor on the theology of pain and suffering and a lecture from a nursing and nutrition professor focused on nutrition and supplements.
STRONG meets Tuesday nights at 7:30 p.m. Contact STRONG at email@example.com for more information.