UCSC pilot program boosts male volunteerism in, beyond Hyde ParkBy Carrie Golus
Founded in 1996, the University Community Service Center matches between 1,500 and 2,000 students with volunteer opportunities at more than 300 organizations every year. While the students come from a broad range of cultural, socioeconomic, religious and geographical backgrounds, many have one thing in common: they are female.
Although not-for-profit representatives are grateful for the support UCSC provides, they have expressed a need for more college male volunteers, especially in mentoring, tutoring and athletic programs for young boys.
Volunteer and service work have traditionally attracted more women, but there are amazing opportunities for men in this area, said Pamela Bozeman-Evans, Director of UCSC. If college men see a role for themselves that more closely reflects their interests they may become more involved.
To address this issue, UCSC developed a pilot program last year, Men in Service, to try to link male students to service opportunities. An all-male service corps may be a controversial idea, but I believe it is necessary at this point, said John Cheadle, a second-year graduate student in the Universitys Divinity School and one of the groups first members. We need to redefine masculinity so that it does not mean merely the strength to earn money and acquire power, but also the courage to serve people and fight for justice in their communities.
The 15 members of Men in Servicea mix of undergraduate and graduate studentsdecided to work together on three specific problems: poor math skills among high school aged kids, violence and health among men and boys, and community and police relationships.
These issues are addressed through three Men in Service programs. The Math Institute, a seven- to eight-week program, was designed to help high school students with pre-algebra, a crucial point where many students get lost and never catch up. METRO, a journaling project lasting four to six weeks, encourages men to write or make other creative work about their experiences with violence. Men 2 Men, a series of meetings at schools, churches and other organizations, educates high school students about their rights when interacting with the police and the justice system.
During Spring Quarter, Men in Service volunteers brought the Math Institute to South Shore High School, where they attended math classes and offered assistance to the teachers. When I was in grade school, I really struggled with math, so I could definitely relate to the problems these kids were having, said third-year Shakir Standley, who helped organize the project. The volunteers arranged their schedules so that one or more of them were at the school every day.
Fourth-year John Connolly spent two afternoons a week at South Shore and described the classroom as disorderly. While serious students sat in the front of the classroom trying to learn, others kept up a continuous stream of noise from the back. Some people say being uneducated is a choice, but I dont think it is, he said. From day one, students are in an atmosphere where some of their fellow classmates have no respect for learning, and thats self-sustaining.
In just eight weeks, though, he could see the programs impact. The kids started coming to class more, and they started doing better on tests.
Connolly also participated in the journaling project, METRO, which debuted at the Woodlawn Adult Health Center during Spring Quarter. The volunteers asked the men at the centersubstance users and violence survivors from age 18 to 65what advice about health and violence they would pass on to younger men.
Volunteers first had to prove themselves trustworthy and compassionate. Noting that the response was unexpected, Connolly mentioned that one older man demanded to know, Why are you here, from across 59th Street?
I explained that for me there was a personal reason, said Connolly. When I sit in class, I feel very privileged, but its also limiting. I feel most alive when Im in communities that are completely different in terms of race, socioeconomic status, culture and values. He looked at me for a minute, and he said, I believe you. I dont understand why that matters to you, but its cool that it matters.
For the next five weeks, volunteers worked with 25 men to create stories, essays and poems. One contributor did not feel comfortable writing, so he dictated his story to a volunteer, who taped it, typed it, brought it back the next week and read it aloud to get the mans corrections.
After a while, the writers began to develop real enthusiasm for the project, said Bozeman-Evans. These men had never been asked for their expertise before, she said. Many had never seen their words in print. At the end of the project, six writers submitted their work for publication in Stories to My Son, a journal created by volunteers participating in the METRO project.
They produced 200 copies of the journal for the authors of the stories, who then could pass them on to relatives and friends. Other copies will be distributed to schools, community centers and other sites where young men would be likely to pick them up.
This academic year, Men in Service will take the journaling project to Hales Franciscan High School in the Woodlawn neighborhood where it will be part of the curriculum for students interested in writing and media.
Later this year, the group also plans to introduce the Men 2 Men project at Parkway Community Center, 500 E. 67th St., where it will be held on four Saturdays during Fall Quarter.
For young urban men, being stopped by a police officer is an almost universal experience, explained David Hays, Assistant Director of UCSC. The Men 2 Men talking tour brings police officers, public defenders and other informed speakers to advise high school students on their rights and responsibilities when dealing with the police and the justice system. After the lecture, Men in Service volunteers lead a discussion and practice role-playing.
For several of the Men in Service volunteers, working with the group has been literally life changing. Connolly had originally planned to attend law school after college, but now wants to apply for Teach for America. Cheadle, who plans to work in prison ministry before becoming a congregational minister, explained that questions about the nature of violence, its relationship to health, and especially the responses to violence will no doubt be invaluable in my profession, he said.
Standley, who grew up in the Austin neighborhood on Chicagos west side, hopes to use his experiences to better his community.
If I didnt have an incredibly supportive family, there was a possibility that I may not have gone to college at all, he said. Thats a fate shared by too many young African-American males in my community. Id like to find a way to change that.
Last spring, UCSC staff members surveyed 500 people on campusundergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staffabout volunteering. The survey showed that 70 percent volunteered their time off campus, but not as a member of the University community. Thats a missed opportunity, said Bozeman-Evans. Were hoping to create a culture of service at the University, to build camaraderie and loyalty. Over the next two years, UCSC plans to target faculty and staff as potential volunteers.