DNP student Yolanda Duncan pays it forward to help hungry students

by | Jan 3, 2024

Duncan matched a young student's donation to pay off lunch debts at local schools and also enjoys volunteering in the community.
Yolanda Duncan
A current DNP student at UMSL, Yolanda Duncan also received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UMSL and has worked as an RN since 1985. She recently matched a donation from a local student who raised money to pay off student lunch debt at his former elementary school. (Photo courtesy of Yolanda Duncan)

When Yolanda Duncan saw the viral story about 14-year-old DeJuan Strickland raising money to pay off the unpaid student lunch debt at his former elementary school, McCurdy Elementary in Florissant, Missouri, she was inspired.

“I was looking at the TV, and I saw this story and how it impacted him,” Duncan said. “You could see the hurt and disappointment that people today still can’t go to school and have lunches. I was like ‘Wow, I’ve never been in a situation like that ever.’ And I wanted to help.”

Duncan, a longtime nurse who is currently working on her DNP degree at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, sprung to action. She matched Strickland’s donation of $400 to McCurdy Elementary so that he could continue paying off lunch debts at other local schools, including the Hazelwood and Pattonville school districts.

“There are still kids out here and the only meal they get, pretty much, is at school,” Duncan said. “I just think that’s just so vital – to get one good decent meal. They can survive. It helps them with their wellbeing, their studying and perhaps keeps them from going out and causing trouble just because they’re hungry.”

Duncan has worked as an RN since 1985, having also received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UMSL. She spent over 27 years in the military, gaining a variety of experience working in the ER, ICU and morgue, in humanitarian services in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic and offering support to families of injured soldiers.

She retired from the military in 2015 and was interested in pursuing her DNP to gain more experience with evidence-based practice and to learn how the approach can help individualize care for patients. Her military career has informed her current research interest in PTSD and TBI, as she previously fielded calls to the Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline, letting families of injured soldiers know what to expect and what signs to look out for, and offer condolences.

Through the DNP program, Duncan has been working to further develop her research interests in domestic violence, trafficking and the opioid crisis. A longtime volunteer passionate about giving back – she often reads with and tutors students in the Hazelwood School District – she has enjoyed getting out into the community, distributing Narcan, taking vital signs and conducting assessments of opioid users through organizations like the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis and CHIPS Health and Wellness Center.

“People need to get involved in their communities,” Duncan said. “People need to find out what is needed in their community and help, just like DeJuan did with his GoFundMe. If people get more involved in the community, we can change some of the things that are going on like dealing with crime or not being able to eat. It can be simple: If you are good in math, tutor a kid. Help them out.”

Strickland’s fundraiser initially had a goal of raising $200 and to date has amassed nearly $8,000. To donate, click here.

Heather Riske

Heather Riske