July 12, 2001
Vol. 20 No. 19

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    Summer Links provides a variety of community service opportunities

    By Carrie Golus
    News Office

    Amy Althoff (center), a third-year student in the College, works with her team at the summer camp “Kids Invent Toys,” which was sponsored by Urban Options, a community service organization in Chicago. Althoff participated in the camp as a Summer Links intern.
    Amy Althoff, a third-year student in the College, is spending her summer working as CEO for a toy factory.

    However, her role is much more hands-on than the typical CEO’s. She works directly with several research and development teams to help dream up new toys. She advises the teams on their business plans, helps them build Web pages to promote their products and evaluates the prototypes the teams have created. And at the end of the workday, she often dispenses hugs to her hard-working employees.

    Althoff is a Summer Links intern at “Kids Invent Toys,” a summer camp run by Urban Options. The goal of the camp is to foster entrepreneurial skills in children age 8 to 12.

    This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Summer Links program, an intensive 10-week internship that integrates a 40-hour workweek in a nonprofit agency with weekly training on substantive social issues and questions. Summer Links is open to both undergraduate and graduate students, and participants receive a $4,000 stipend paid by the University.

    Over the summer, Althoff will help with four weeklong camps, which take place at various community organizations on the city’s West Side.

    “The kids are wonderful. They are energetic, motivated, enthusiastic about the program and in all ways adorable,” she said. “The hardest part of this position is only being with each group for a week. I don’t look forward to the good-byes.”

    During the first camp, which ran from Monday, June 25 to Friday, June 29, at the North Lawndale YMCA, one group of children developed two new versions of the “Game Boy” handheld computer game: “Game Girl” and “Game Parent.” An all-male group crafted cloth basketball jerseys for Barbie dolls. One boy created a disco basketball, while several others developed new baby toys.

    “The kids are taught that when they come up with ideas, they have the personal skill and resources to implement them,” said Althoff. “That self-empowerment and affirmation is something I believe should be

    stressed in education.”

    Admission into the Summer Links program is competitive; only 30 students are accepted out of a pool of 80 to 100 applicants each year.

    Organizations that participate in the Summer Links program include Chicago Legal Clinic, Hyde Park Art Center, North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School, Ronald McDonald House, Streetwise and the trauma unit of Cook County Hospital.

    “We work with the organizations to create substantive jobs for the students. They aren’t just doing clerical work,” said Pamela Bozeman-Evans, Assistant Director of Community Outreach in the University Community Service Center. “Most of them are in project management positions with a set of goals to achieve by the end of the summer.”

    During her Summer Links internship, Yuh Wen Ling will have a direct impact on the lives of more than 60 persecuted scholars from around the world. Ling, a third-year student, is interning for the Scholars at Risk Network, a human rights organization founded last summer by the University’s Human Rights Program. The group helps scholars who are subjected to persecution abroad find temporary positions at member institutions, which include universities and colleges in the United States and Europe.

    “I am actually looking at cases of scholars at risk in their home countries and helping to make decisions about the course of action to be taken,” said Ling. “My first day was pretty overwhelming. I was slightly taken aback when my supervisor (Robert Quinn, Director of the Scholars at Risk Network) asked me what action we should take with each case.”

    Students who are accepted in the Summer Links program review up to 80 agencies and choose three to five that interest them. After interviews, the agency representatives and students rank each other and are matched accordingly. Sometimes a student’s final placement can be with an agency that he or she initially did not expect. “Pam Bozeman suggested we pick one that sounded interesting to us but which we knew nothing about,” said Ling, whose wild-card choice was Scholars at Risk.

    While the job skills that Summer Links participants gain will doubtless be useful in their future careers, both Althoff and Ling cite their desire to help the community as their primary motivation.

    “Summer Links participants are different from the typical college student in that service isn’t something we do,” said Althoff. “It’s part of who we want to be.”

    Ling added, “In a world that is increasingly cynical, and as part of a generation that has grown up to match such an environment, I don’t think an ‘I can make a difference’ mentality is necessarily such a bad thing.”