New Billionaire project to provide handwashing units, education for regional schools

What started as a health and wellness project in 2017 is now a major educational opportunity in 2020 – mainly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carter Cook prepares to deliver handwashing simulators to Hagerstown Elementary School. Through the Billionaire project, students across the region will learn the how-to and importance of proper handwashing. The project is funded by a grant from the Indiana University Council for Regional Engagement and Economic Development (CREED).

Carter Cook prepares to deliver handwashing simulators to Hagerstown Elementary School. Through the Billionaire project, students across the region will learn the how-to and importance of proper handwashing. The project is funded by a grant from the Indiana University Council for Regional Engagement and Economic Development (CREED).

Newly named the “Billionaire” project, the program aims to teach and reinforce the importance of proper handwashing in regional schools, says Tim Scales, director for the Center for Entrepreneurship and director for the Center for Economic Education at Indiana University East.

Scales, who is also senior lecturer in the School of Business and Economics, says no one realized just how important the project would become when a grant funded “Glitter Bugs” three years ago as a health and wellness project. The two units were used to teach and illustrate proper handwashing.

“In 2017, we received funds from Enactus and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to create a health and wellness project,” Scales recalls. At the time, they bought two of the units, called Glitter Bugs, and used them to teach proper handwashing at the Boys & Girls Club of Wayne County. The units help illustrate how handwashing isn’t effective if not done properly. When it is, it can keep hands from spreading infectious agents such as cold, flu, or COVID-19.

IU East’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences provided health and wellness information and the guidelines for effective handwashing.

“This project has the potential to positively impact the prevention of COVID-19, influenza and other communicable diseases, It is so important for children to learn from an early age how to properly wash their hands,” said Karen Clark, dean of the School of Nursing and Health Sciences. “It has been our pleasure to work with Tim Scales in the early development and implementation of the program. As the program expands, the School of Nursing and Health Sciences looks forward to continue collaboration.”

The units involve placing a lotion on the hands to simulate germs, then examining the hands under a black light. The person then washes their hands as normal and the unit is used to check them again – often the first time still showing many “germs” still on the hands. The teaching opportunity then explains how important it is to wash the hands long enough to clean between the fingers and generally to scrub them well with soap and water.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which hit the region in mid-March, suddenly put the importance of handwashing at the forefront in a way it hadn’t been in years. Though every infection control practitioner emphasizes the importance of handwashing each flu season, the reality of a pandemic from a virus with no cure or vaccine made many more people pay attention to the message.

Scales said the two units purchased three years ago were offered to the Boys & Girls Club again in March 2020, who readily accepted them.

“Using the devices makes us feel more confident about our youth’s ability to wash their hands and do it properly,” said Alicia Painter, director of operations for the Boys & Girls Club of Wayne County. “This was a great learning experience for members to understand the need to take their time washing their hands – and to wash all areas of their hands.”

The Boys and Girls Club of Wayne County has used the Glitter Bug units to educate and improve children's understanding of handwashing. The unit is provided by the IU East School of Business and Economics.

The Boys and Girls Club of Wayne County has used the Glitter Bug units to educate and improve children’s understanding of handwashing. The unit is provided by the IU East School of Business and Economics.

Scales says he realized the message of proper handwashing during a pandemic meant the message needed to reach more people. So he applied and was approved for a grant from the Indiana University Council for Regional Engagement and Economic Development (CREED). With the grant, he was able to purchase 12 more units, which just arrived the first week of September.

His goal is to get a unit in all 11 Wayne County elementary schools, along with training on how to use them. The districts include Richmond Community Schools, Centerville Abington Schools, Western Wayne Schools, Seton Schools, Hagerstown Schools and Northeastern Schools.

Dawn Sonsini, director of Elementary Education for Richmond Community Schools, said units were delivered to school principals who will use them to “teach a valuable lesson in the importance of handwashing and limiting the spread of germs – especially during a pandemic.”

She says the schools are always looking for ways to engage students in meaningful ways.

“Project Billionaire provides a hands-on opportunity for students to learn how washing their hands can keep them safe and prevent the spread of COVID. Students in grades PK-4 will receive the training,” Sonsini said. “Our elementary staff is committed to keeping students and each other safe. We always welcome the opportunity to teach life lessons, such as handwashing, to our students. We want students to be responsible and do what they can individually to keep germs from spreading.”

With the aid of freshman Carter Cook, he has begun the process to expand “Billionaire” into the schools, hopefully reduce the spread of COVID-19 and provide some economic education at the same time.

Cook and Scales decided to call the project “Billionaire” because of the economic impact that reducing the spread of COVID-19, or any infection, can have on the national economy.

“The name is a fun way to start a conversation about the economic impact handwashing can have,” Scales says, noting that the impact of the common cold is $40 billion a year in the United States alone. And clearly COVID-19 is having a far greater impact yet to be tallied.

Cook says he chose IU East after graduation from Homestead High School in Fort Wayne because of his interest in cross country and track. Beyond athletics, he explored the school of business during his campus visit and felt he would be a good fit. He felt he could become a good leader at a smaller school. As a business administration major, the handwashing project and its connection to economics was something else to get excited about.

“We found the perfect name. The reason is we believe that if people learn better hygiene and handwashing, then the United States could save a lot of money,” Cook says. “This project will help many. It has taught me already how to take some simple actions to keep myself healthier. I think the Billionaire project will have the same effect on others and keep everyone healthier, and in turn, save money.”

Cook and Scales are including a competition in the project this school year. The three schools who get the most creative with students to use the handwashing training will receive a prize. Scales and Cook plan to expand the program to next year’s Third Grade Academy, and hope to also expand into high schools.

Scales and Cook plan to expand the program to next year’s Third Grade Academy, and hope to also expand into high schools.

“This project will be around for a long time,” says Scales. “By fall 2021, we want to have them in the high schools with an advanced learning curriculum. When we started a few years ago, it was a quick project. Now, it is a sustainable project.”