University students are committed to communityBy Jennifer Leovy
The University of Chicago College catalog does not list classes in painting church walls and planting community gardens. But those activities and others like them are what more than 1,000 first-year students did one afternoon during Orientation for Commitment to Community. With 40 organizations throughout Chicago participating in the afternoon event, students volunteered for activities that ranged from working with students at Kenwood Academy to cleaning up littered streets with Chicago Gateway Green.
"We want to encourage our students to be givers," said Jean Treese, Associate Dean of Students in the College and Director of Orientation. "Community involvement is a virtue, a habit we want to instill."
Through the efforts of the College Orientation Office, Commitment to Community became part of Orientation in the fall of 1995. Originally a student-run organization, the University Community Service Center was established as an office of the University in 1996, and its staff began facilitating Commitment to Community.
"Commitment to Community challenges students to think about their new community and their place in it," said Aracely Munoz Contreras, UCSC Coordinator. "We hope to spark an interest in the benefits of helping the disenfranchised of our community."
The UCSC promotes community involvement through service, and because Commitment to Community takes place during Orientation, students have the opportunity to get involved right away.
UCSC offers a full range of volunteer, work/study, part- and full-time employment and internship programs for any student who wants to be involved in the community service arena. UCSC's goal is to create hands-on learning experiences that will help students become effective community leaders. One such experience is Summer Links, an internship program for undergraduate and graduate students committed to public service, community building and social change.
Summer Links is a paid summer internship created and facilitated by UCSC. Michelle Obama, UCSC Director, modeled the program after Public Allies, a 10-month, full-time, paid internship that students can undertake after graduation. Summer Links is a distilled 10 weeks of intensive community service, comprised of hands-on work experience and complemented by weekly half-day training sessions, including panel discussions.
After an intensive week of orientation, including educational sessions such as "The People We Serve Race, Gender, Class and Client Sensitivity" and "Asset-based Community Development," students begin work at their respective sites.
During the work week, students spend four and a half days at their community organization. On Friday afternoons, they attend special training sessions and panel discussions on topics relevant to community service, such as welfare reform, race relations and affordable and accessible health care. They also end the week with a chance to compare notes and to seek advice from each other and from community service professionals.
"Summer Links helps students develop skills that may be used toward a career," said Pam Bozeman, Assistant Director for Community Outreach and Summer Links Coordinator. "And students have the opportunity to identify community service as a real work connection."
Anne Newman is a second-year student in the College who spent her internship at Children's Memorial Hospital working with chronically ill children. Newman thought the Summer Links program would be a good way to learn about Chicago and to become part of the community. "I wouldn't feel at home until I got involved," said Newman.
With a background in tutoring, Newman wanted to work one-on-one with children. At Children's Memorial, she spent time engaging children in schoolwork as well as playing games with them. "I never thought I'd meet a child who just had a heart transplant and then ask him to do math," Newman said. "He said eSure!'" Newman commented that kids intuitively know keeping up with school requirements means they are on their way to recovery. "If someone makes you do your homework, then you know you're going to get out of the hospital," Newman said.
Interns gain working knowledge from on-site professionals as well as the panel speakers they meet on Fridays. Newman said it felt good to be working with people who really want to make a difference. "At the Friday afternoon training sessions, we got right to the heart of social issues like homelessness or race relations.
"I have a greater awareness of social issues in our community and feel that while I am a student at Chicago, I also am part of a greater community and have a greater sense of responsibility to that community," said Newman.
Newman hopes to work at a neighborhood school this fall. She said her Summer Links experience has made her consider a career with a not-for-profit organization, and she definitely plans to pursue civic-minded opportunities between college and graduate school.
Kalynne Harris is a second-year student in the College and spent her internship working on the community garden for First Presbyterian Church at 64th and Kimbark streets. Like Newman, Harris wanted to learn more about her environment and get involved in Chicago.
Hyde Park would be her home for four years, so she chose an internship specifically in the community. "I thought of this work as personal instead of academic education," said Harris.
At the First Presbyterian Church, Harris organized the community garden operations, working with suppliers and the people who tend the gardens senior citizens and students from day-care classes at the church. The gardens' produce is used for a weekly luncheon at the church and is distributed to friends of garden caretakers and throughout the community.
Harris said she feels what she does makes a difference. "However, to have a long-term effect or impact on the community, there's no easy way of doing that," she said. She is sure she will continue her community work.
Informational sessions about Summer Links will be scheduled this fall for interested students. Applications are due Jan. 16, 1999.